Prim, proper, perfect, pained

by Erin on October 2, 2006

ebay item 8305987417

I am really liking buttoned-up, very prim, demure-to-the-point-of-invisibility dresses lately. I'm pretty sure it's because it's fall. Fall always makes me think of library dresses; dresses that just want to be left alone with a book. Spring is for windy-day daffodil dresses, and summer for picnic dresses, and winter for soft, heavy, trailing dresses that cover your feet as you sit by the fire, but fall is for book-dresses.

So I like this one (which is only $6.99 from StellaBlue on eBay, and B33). Even if it looks as if the poor woman modeling it has just seen her one true love impaled by a piece of rebar, and is deploring the mess it made. I don't know why she doesn't look happy, in a dress like that, but she doesn't. The one on the right also looks as if she's challenging you to a quick-draw contest, but unfortunately she left her holster at home.

If I made this it would be in gray with black piping and buttons. Or maybe a nice deep maroon. But it's not my size, so I'm not making it. But you could …

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 2, 2006 at 10:14 am

I think the pained face is due to the impossibly thin waist.


Pamela October 2, 2006 at 11:36 am

I think the girl on the left looks like Myrna Loy after the ever-charming William Powell has pulled yet another fast one on her.


vespabelle October 2, 2006 at 12:11 pm

The model realizes that the woman who wears a half size (that is shorter than average and stocky) will not be well-served by kimono sleeves! And unlike most pattern company drawings, she is not a hauty bitch but cares about her shorter, fatter friends!


Anonymous October 2, 2006 at 2:22 pm

Could you do a few entries on warm dresses? What goes on the bottom? Wool tights & knee high boots? As someone who is perpetually cold, I’m worried about how to keep up the dresses in the winter.


Ed October 2, 2006 at 2:31 pm

These will definatley come back in fashion big time


Schweighopper October 2, 2006 at 2:33 pm

You come up with the most perfect descriptions and prose! I have smiled now on an otherwise difficult day. Thank you!


Robinson October 2, 2006 at 3:21 pm

I think she’s hungry.


Nora October 2, 2006 at 8:34 pm

I love the expressions on these old patterns; there always seems to be a story. Often I find myself coveting a pattern because I want to feel the way the model looks like she feels (or have one of those fabulous, yet easy-care looking hairdos.) I think the one on the right looks like Steven Fry in a Jeeves moment (one of those dubious, “as you say, sir”s).The other thing I love is the gloves. I love that gloves are (theoretically) hot right now. So, anonymous, I say yes, knee-high boots and tights – you can do footless tights with warmer woolen sox, too, possibly underskirts (think can-can, circus or gypsy), and opera-length gloves if you can possibly get away with it (a la Kate Moss, who can clearly get away with anything, on the cover of the Sept. Vanity Fair). Here’s a knitting pattern for opera gloves that I’m currently considering (for those of you who knit):


bonimom October 2, 2006 at 9:54 pm

If this was a size 14 then, would it now be a size 6?


Floridaprincess October 2, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Erin, your little descriptions make me smile. This is a nice little patten for someone but it is too small for me.


Anonymous October 3, 2006 at 12:05 am

Gloves are surprisingly easy to sew using any stretchy fabric with lycra. By making your own you can wear some fantastic colors, even match your dress instead of just making do with the black or white.


Thoughts on Life and Millinery. October 3, 2006 at 8:50 am

Yeah, library dress! That’s exactly what I would like to see on our patrons. I’m so tired of the current go to the library wearing “clean-out-the-garage-go-to-beach” togs trend. Please, no more bare belly fat with belly button rings in my face at refence desk! There’s enough profanity and obscentity in the stacks as it is, without the “self published” versions wandering around!


JuliaR October 3, 2006 at 10:34 am

I like your seasonal descriptions of dresses. The only problem with long skirts in the dead of winter is that they might trail in the slush, especially that which resides on the floor of the bus, which is also liberally sprinkled with road salt. I wear thick tights and boots up to my knees with a narrow(er) skirt that comes to below the top of the boot.


Minya, Warrior Seamstress October 3, 2006 at 8:08 pm

Well yes, I could sew it. But since I wouldn’t be able to wear it either, what would be the point?


La BellaDonna October 4, 2006 at 9:13 am

Minya, why could you not? Was it you who posted earlier about having heavy legs with some scarring? I wear dresses and skirts all the time; except at the gym, I virtually never wear trousers. However, no one ever sees my legs. The skirts I wear are long, for the most part; I wear them with black tights; and 99% of the time I’m wearing them with boots. I work in a law office, and unless you work in a bank, or in D.C., it doesn’t get much more conservative than that. There’s nothing keeping you from making an above-ankle kirtle and Elizabethan jacket in a navy-blue pinstripe flannel, or a variation on an Italian Renaissance gown in green wool jersey. As for a lot of the ’50s dresses that Erin shows, which I love, I make them up in my fabric-of-choice (often, though, I’ll lengthen the skirts), and wear them with my boots-and-tights.I tried to do a search on a previous posting I’d done here, with no luck; it is absolutely possible to wear dresses all winter long, and be much warmer than if you were wearing jeans and a sweater. One of my favorite work outfits, from the skin out: bra and Frederick’s-of-Hollywood lace boyshorts (no binding at waist or leg!!); black tights; black silk thermal bottoms; black leggings on top of those, if needed; black scoop-neck silk thermal top; black wool socks; boots; black cotton/wool blend flannel petticoat (with black lace edging); black cashmere turtleneck sweater, with long sleeves; fully lined long-sleeved red wool crepe shirtdress, with a princess-line bodice and circle skirt; a quilted silk jacket in sari prints over that. And that’s not counting the coat, scarf, hat, gloves, etc. It keeps me toasty warm, and gives me the option of unlayering, and still looking decent, without looking like a bundle of laundry.For casual wear, why not make a green corduroy dress, lined with an ivory flannel with an ivy-leaf print? For that matter, why not make a princess-line dress in a pretty floral print polarfleece fabric? Make your favorite skirt pattern up in a lined wool; then make up a shorter version in a plain or printed cotton flannel to wear beneath it. A few posts back, I mentioned a peasant blouse that I had made into a dress by adding a half-circle skirt in the same fabric; I can do that in any number of pretty flannel prints, and wear them as shirt-and-petticoat combinations under wool or corduroy jumpers, or vest-and-skirt combinations. There’s a lot to be said for the simple full-length (not floor-length) silk slip worn under winter dresses. Can’t find a silk slip anywhere? The difference between a princess-line silk slip, and a princess-line sleeveless silk dress, is … whether or not you wear anything over it. Nothing says it has to be plain; I’ve been known to buy sleeveless printed, as well as plain, silk nightgowns and wear them as slips. You could make them, if you were … sew inclined. Silk thermals are a real blessing, too. After work, during the winter, I change into my lounging outfit of choice: a fitted princess polarfleece dress with a deep scoop neck, long sleeves, and a really full skirt. If it’s cold, I can put my thermals under it; if it’s really cold, I can wear a cashmere turtleneck under it, too, and leggings over the thermals. But it’s toasty and comfy and still pretty and fitted. I think I’ll do one this winter in a snowflake patterned polarfleece, with an attached hood (for my drafty Victorian-era apartment). Any dress pattern that calls for a knit can be made in a polarfleece fabric; so for that matter can any pattern that doesn’t call for a knit. You can wear your dresses this winter and still be warm, ladies! (Edited to add that Juliar is right about the mush-and-slush factor; I’ve been known to kilt up a long skirt with a belt until I’m out of the slush – my coat gets the brunt of the bus slush!)


La BellaDonna October 4, 2006 at 10:58 am

And a little bit of information for the Occasionally Intimidated: I often run into a – Bit of a Problem? Recurring Theme? I don’t know what to call it, but it keeps happening, and the possibility of it is beautifully intimated and illustrated (I couldn’t right “potentiated,” because it made me ill to do so) by the coral/copper-coloured version, where the lady is throttling the scarf:Observe, if you please, the dart coming down from her shoulder. Observe, then, the dart at her waist, inching hopefully heavenward. (N.B. This also happens when there is an armscye (armhole) dart, instead of a shoulder dart.) By the time I’ve finished taking in those darts so that they fit me at the waist and over my 36D bust, I have … a princess seam. In this version, I would have a Shoulder Princess Seam; in a dress that had the dart in the armscye, I would have an Armhole/Armscye Princess Seam. Every. Single. Time. No matter what. And if I were trying to make a garment with an “unfitted” bodice for myself? Well, of course, I’d have to fit it. And I’d start with darts. At the waist. And a dart at the armscye, because we are talking a serious gap in the fabric there if I don’t. And then I take in each dart. A little bit. Then a little bit more. I keep taking the darts in, and extending them, until the bodice fits.And then I have another princess-seamed bodice.So … I don’t know if that will make the folks here feel better, or more nervous, about their own sewing skills and potential. Sometimes the fabric just wants what it wants. And I wanted to let you know if you find a way that works for you, it’s probably not wrong, even if it’s not what you were expecting, or even attempting. And that if you wear a 36D or larger, you have many princess seams in your future.


ambika October 4, 2006 at 12:30 pm

I just love the description of the expressions. Haughty was the only word that came to my mind but imagining gun fights is much better.


La BellaDonna October 4, 2006 at 1:15 pm

And I couldn’t write write right, either. Right? But that’s because “potentiated” wasn’t right.


Robinson October 5, 2006 at 10:01 pm

Bella, you are an inspiration. I see a lot of princess seams in my future. After reading a few of your posts I’ve realized that the reason I never can make myself look like i have a waist is because the clothing manufacturers aren’t making clothes that fit me (once i can get my top half in the rest is too big). I will learn to sew, I will learn to sew, I will learn to sew. Just as soon as I figure out what to do about the fact that my Sew U patterns won’t fit me.


jenny October 6, 2006 at 12:03 am

No, no, no! She’s not looking pained, but rather attempting to look contemptuous and completely uninterested. Condescendingly cool. She’s about to say, “Really, dear: were all of your other frocks at the cleaners?” Or “Frankly, I find trivial conversation most tiresome, don’t you? Oh, but I can see that you don’t. Of course, you wouldn’t…”My cold-weather hints: tights & cardigans. Going from biting cold to overenthusiastic central heating is a problem when you layer too much; but these two trusty items have always served me well.


La BellaDonna October 6, 2006 at 9:15 am

Robinson, if you are very hour-glass (or just bosomy with a small waist), I strongly urge you to go back a couple of posts and reread the bit where I suggested that folks with nonstandard figures who need to make alterations, but either don’t have dressmaker’s dummies that match their bodies, or who don’t have a lot of experience with fitting, go to a professional seamstress, and have a basic fitting shell'shell'&page=1 or'shell'&page=1 made up to fit them. Have the shell made up in a sturdy non-stretch plain-weave fabric; a gingham with 1/4″ size checks would be good, because, there you are, a tool marked off in quarter-inch increments! Talk to the seamstress; let her know you will be using the shell, and that once the shell is in its final version (because it will be modified and modified), make sure that all the seams, darts, etc., are marked with a permanent dark marker. Have her mark some unusual bits, too: have her mark your bust point (where your nipples are – and make sure you wear a good bra for the fitting, and your usual underwear); have her mark exactly where your elbow is. You are going to take this finished shell apart very very carefully; you are then going to copy every pattern piece in something like Pattern Transfer Paper, and you are going to copy every single dart, etc., onto the pattern transfer paper. This will be your own Personal Fitted Pattern (PFP). (You can make variations of this: trace 1/2 the front and 1/2 the back to work with for bodices, unless your left and front are very different; same thing for the skirt section front and back. Now, if you overlap the top pattern over the skirt pattern, front top/front skirt, back top/back skirt [at the WAISTLINE SEAM of each, not the cut edge], and trace all around that, you will have a pattern for basic shift dress, without a waist seam.) This way, when you buy a shirt or blouse pattern, you put your PFP on top of any newly purchased pattern, and you will see where the changes need to be made. This is what you will do with your Sew U patterns to make them fit you. You can also take a storebought shirt, bought too big or baggy so that you can wedge your bosom into, and superimpose your PFP front over the front of the storebought blouse; now, make darts or tucks in the shoulder of the blouse (on the INSIDE/WRONG SIDE of the blouse), or just run a couple of rows of gathering thread along the shoulder seam and pull them up tight and secure them on the INSIDE/WRONG SIDE, so the length of the storebought blouse shoulder seam is the length of your shoulder seam on the PFP. That’s one change that will help all by itself, and it will keep you from having a shirt that falls down your arms because you bought it big to get your bosom in it. Now pin the side seam of your blouse to the side seam of your PFP; pin the front of your blouse to the front of your PFP; there may be a bunch of blouse fabric poufing out over the pattern (or not, depending on the blouse fullness). You can make vertical tucks or darts in the storebought blouse in the same places where the darts appear in your PFP(on the INSIDE/WRONG SIDE of the blouse/shirt – unless you’re making a Style Statement, all sewing stitches should be on INSIDE of your garment).Remember, folks, you can practice your sewing skills and fitting skills on clothes you already own. I’m not suggesting trying to make radical alterations when you’re just starting out, but you can certainly experiment with putting darts or tucks in the storebought blouses and shirts you already own. You won’t be putting in any darts at the armscye unless the top is sleeveless, unless you pick open part of the armhole seam, make the dart, reduce the size of the sleeve by the same amount, and stitch up the armhole again. However, you can shorten up a long droopy shoulder seam to match your own shoulder without picking anything apart. If you are going to practice fitting your shirts, get the shoulder seam to fit first. That will affect how the rest of the shirt fits. Then experiment with making darts or tucks in the body of the shirt, until the fit makes you happy. Darts should stop approximately 1″ from the bust point; you don’t want to make your breasts look pointy! Remember to do your fitting symmetrically, keeping the sides even. If you’re fitting a shirt directly on your body, pin the bottom of the shirt, center front, to your pants, center front, to make certain you don’t pull the shirt askew.Do you wear a lot of baggy T-shirts in order to fit your bust into something? You can practice gathering up the T-shirt shoulder seams. Gather them up until the T-shirt seams are the same length as your shoulder, and the underarm of the shirt is at your underarm. You can make the T-Shirt more fitted through the waist; instead of putting in darts, you can try making a curved seam instead, using a French curve (curved ruler, but honestly, you could use a giant coffee can). Make a dot * at the under arm seam; make a dot * at your waistline; make a dot * at the bottom of the hem. You can do this whether or not the T-shirt has side seams; you’ll be working on the T-Shirt lying flat. To know how far in to make the waistline * (it’s marking both the waistline level, and how far in the curve goes), you can pin the darts closed on your PFP; then you’ll see how far in to make the *. Mark a curved line from the underarm *, into the waistline *, and out again to the hip *. Make the lines the same on the left and the right side of the T-Shirt, so the marks look like this when the T-Shirt is flat: )( First, pin along the markings, just to make sure you like the fit; pin right along the marks, so that the pins make the “seam.” Try the shirt on (carefully, so you don’t get stuck). If you like the fit, take the pins out, smooth the shirt flat, and pin perpendicular across the marks (like a railroad), so that the front and back stay together as you stitch the seams. You can use a zig-zag stitch on a machine to do this, or a straight stitch on a machine to do this if you stretch the material as you sew; you can even do it by hand, if you stretch the material as you sew [stretching the seam as you sew with straight stitches keeps the stitches from breaking when the T-shirt seams get stretched when worn. Cut away the extra fabric when you’re done, so your new T-shirt has side seams that look like this: ) ( instead of this: l l. Welcome to the C-shirt instead of the T-shirt! You can practice on a package of Hanes T-shirts, or thrift store shirts, if you don’t want to ruin your good shirts. You certainly don’t need to have a fitting shell or a dummy before trying to make a C-shirt; you can make a guess as to how much in needs to come in at the waist. And you can put a shirt on inside-out and button it, and experiment by pinching and pinning where darts need to go. You absolutely can sew!Jenny, I’m with you on the tights, but a cardigan looks tragic on me with my bosom. Or comic. My List O’ Layers works for me and for the woman who has to walk, or has to wait for a bus or a train for God knows how long; the pieces come off, one at a time, and get popped into a tote I carry for that very purpose, when I’m in a building. But the cardigan can be a good choice for the woman-with-car – or even the woman-with-less=bosom. Cardigans can look really cute with dresses.


Andrea October 7, 2006 at 1:15 pm

I just bought “Vintage 50’s Advance Dress Pattern–Super cute dress with front buttoned bodice, large notched collar, left side zipper, and gorgeous multi-gored skirt!” from Stellablue Vintage Sewing.A beautiful b45, w40, h49 double-vested dress.Just got a GREAT book at the library–“The Complete Guide to Pattern Making” by Dr. Barbara K. Nordquist, published in 1974.She published 1/4 size and 1/2 size standard shells that you coppy onto paper and then manipulate by moving the darts and altering the shapes. The last exercise is to make a sloper for yourself. Which is very like the personal fitted pattern la belladonna is talking about.I have a pfp from the Vogue shell that works very well for me, but I want to go through the exercises in the book to better understand how patterns work and to be able to create my own patterns from pictures I see of vintage fashions.And yes, princess seams are my friend, too.


Anonymous February 20, 2007 at 11:13 am

HAHAHHAHAHAHA your a joke!


Deirdre February 11, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Woman on the right has Robert DeNiro eyebrows. Never a good look.Dear Anonymous: hahaha your grammar is atrocious.


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