Shirtwaist #1

by Erin on February 26, 2008

Simplicity 5232

So far, in my new obsession with shirtdresses, I've made the pattern above three times.

Here's the first version I made ("the beta"), in the gray polka-dot cotton I bought in Japan:

Gray Dot Dress 1

I was pretty ambitious for a beta version; check out the rickrack on the collar and the inserted cording along the front dress edge:

Gray Dot Dress 2

I did make some alterations to the pattern: I added pockets (they're hidden in the front skirt seam, under those pleats); I shortened the sleeves (a LOT), and I gave myself more room in the waist.

Of course, it being the first go-round, I did screw up a couple things. First of all, Pellon Shirtailor interfacing could probably compete in an Ironman. (Heck, it's probably used in IRONMAN's suit!) That stuff is STIFF. I didn't really want the dress to stand up by itself …

Also, I messed up the placement of the buttons. The pattern suggested the spacing I used, with no button at the waist, since it will get caught up on your belt. But I forgot that I don't plan to wear a belt with this. This means I don't have a button at the waist to hold it together, and have a hook-and-bar-tack closure instead. I *hate* hook-and-bar-tack closures. (I suppose I *could* break down and wear a belt, but I have a huge ranty post coming up about the current belt insanity, and I'm afraid wearing a belt now will hurt my credibility later.)

Of course, looking at the picture, it looks like I could sneak in one more button just a teeeeeny bit under the waistline, and have the buttons still look more-or-less spaced. Hmm. Must consider.

Despite these gross errors, the dress is still wearable — I've worn it two or three times. I like to wear it with bright tights and a matching cardigan (that is, a cardigan that matches the tights — especially a yellow tights/yellow cardigan combo).

Tomorrow: version #2, in which I make significant improvements.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

the_lazymilliner February 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

This is really nice, Erin. I see you’re getting for spring already. Bravo!


Donna February 26, 2008 at 8:44 am

I love this dress and totally admire the rickrack AND inserted cording. I have a question – did you interface the entire dress with the pellon, or just the collar? Your comment about the dress standing up by itself promped this question. Do you usually underline your cottons when you make a dress? Thanks !


Ashe Mischief February 26, 2008 at 8:47 am

Love the fabric– it’s just fantastic. And the idea of it with bright yellow tights & a matching cardigan makes me very happy. Wonderful and odd color pairing, but it sounds great.


Erin February 26, 2008 at 8:50 am

Donna — no, I didn’t underline the whole dress — just interfaced the collar and front facings.


the_lazymilliner February 26, 2008 at 8:53 am

I meant to say you’re getting ready for spring already…I’d also add that if I made this dress, I’d have Fourth of July red buttons and rick-rack.


Lydia February 26, 2008 at 9:25 am

Mmmm. I love matching belts. I’m all *ears perked* to hear your rant, now. ‘Cos even when I disagree with you, your rants are wonderful.Also: That cording along the buttonhole edge is beautiful. Do I have the patience/motivation to try that sometime? Unsure.


Nora February 26, 2008 at 9:26 am

Cute! You can totally sneak in another button, I think. I love the grey and yellow combination (red would be great too). I have some grey-with-white polkadot fabric waiting to be sewn up when I get over this @#$% flu…but it’s sort of an odd color grey (has a bit of green in it), so I’m trying to find something to use for trim and was thinking of yellow. Plum-blossom pink is also calling me, as all the ornamental plums on my street are in bloom. (Yes, it’s already spring here. Sorry!)


Kristen February 26, 2008 at 9:41 am

I too have a love for belts, and look forward to hearing (seeing?) your rant. It’s always nice to get a little “other opinion” in one’s reportoire, just to make sure one is not going a bit overboard… :)


Dottie February 26, 2008 at 9:41 am

That dress with the rick rack and inserted cording is pure genius. As is the matching of it with yellow.Gray and yellow seem to be quite a popular mix these days.I love seeing your work. Thanks for sharing. It made my day!


andreahg February 26, 2008 at 9:52 am

What a lovely dress! I can’t believe it’s a beta! The thought of wearing it with yellow cardi is pure genius. I could also see it with a rich, dark purple.


Shannon February 26, 2008 at 9:59 am

I like it. I made myself a yellow dress with lavender collar and sleeve bands last summer, and came up with a similar problem when it came time to place the buttons. I was NOT going to wear a belt, hate the hook and bar closures because I am forever re-sewing them back on, so I just placed one button about 1/2 – 3/4 inch above the waist seam, and another the same distance below the waist seam, and then spaced the rest of the buttons out from there. And since it was done on purpose, the double button at the waist doesn’t look too bad.Also, for a cotton dress that we don’t want standing on it’s own, the best interfacing I’ve found (taken at my mom’s suggestion, and she’s been sewing FOR-EV-ER) is a flat twin-sized white cotton sheet from Wal-Mart. They’re $2-$3 down here in central IL, and they give you dozens of dresses worth of collar and button placket interfacing, and they never make those awful stiff board-like things running down the front of your nice soft cotton dresses. And they’re way cheaper than “real” interfacing. :)


Suzanne February 26, 2008 at 9:59 am

ONLY BETA! Its awfully lovely for a beta version. It looks SO WEARABLE. I can see your accessories too, the tights and cardigan. I knit obsessively, but I do not yet know how to sew….but I may be changing my mind. You may qualify as a DANGEROUS CRAFT PUSHER!


Anotheryarn February 26, 2008 at 10:17 am

Oh yay! Thank you for sharing one of your dress creations again. I always enjoy seeing interpretation of vintage patterns.


Cookie February 26, 2008 at 10:30 am

The rickrack peeking out from under the collar like that is genius. I didn’t notice it at first, then spotted “rick rack” in your post and feared it would be covering that line down near the underturned hem or something. Perhaps in a vividly contrasting color, which is NOT my cup of tea.As usual, though, you came through and delivered.Though I’ve worked as a wardrobe supervisor for some big costume designers, got an A in Home Ec and know how to mend, I have never made a garment from scratch. Your blog is inspiring me! I have an idea in mind; will post about it next week or so : ) PS: I think your gray would also look superb with a pale aqua cardigan. But then, I’m seemingly unaturally attracted to seafoam colors right now.


HouseMouse February 26, 2008 at 10:51 am

Thanks for the dress pictures! It’s always nice to see the patterns “in person.” You most definitely could put a button right under the waistline there and still have fine spacing–in fact, visually there’s a gap without one. I’m usually annoyed by belts with dresses unless there’s a full complement of real belt loops. Otherwise, they ride up, spin around, and generally don’t stay where they belong. I firmly believe I should be able to put my clothes on and forget about them for the rest of the day!


Diane February 26, 2008 at 11:07 am

Hmmm, I’m not that crazy about belts either but you’ll notice that all the views in the pattern are shown with belts. Perhaps a matching sash? Ok, a sash is really a belt but with a sash you can keep your credibility. The details and fabric are lovely and a sash would make it look more finished (polished). Hook and eyes be damned!


sixties sewer February 26, 2008 at 11:15 am

Gray, my all time favorite. This is a wonderful dress! Can you describe, sometime, how you put in the cording — is it against the fold edge and then sewed down from the outside with a zipper foot? Love this idea and never saw it done before.


tea February 26, 2008 at 11:16 am

Wonderful! I love gray and yellow together. And in an unrelated note, I attended a copyediting audio conference call today in which the teacher (Editor of Copyediting magazine) used an example from something you’d written (about Geoff Nunberg).


Erin February 26, 2008 at 11:27 am

The cording — yes, it’s just put in the fold and sewn down with the zipper foot. Of course, you have to fiddle with the order of putting things together a little bit, because it’s easier to do the entire front edge at once instead of trying to join the lumpy corded bits together at the waist seam. Not that I did it the hard way first or anything!Tea — that must have been Wendi! I can’t remember what I wrote about Geoff, but I bet it was nice. I like him a great deal.


Bean February 26, 2008 at 11:29 am

Ooh, I love it!! I’m in love with shirt dresses, as well… I’ll have to find this particular pattern :)


Theresa February 26, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I love the dress. I am weighing in on the pro belt side. I am short bperson with the torso of a 6′ foot amazon with no waist. I nice wide belt does wonders in giving me a waist and making my upper and lower half look more in proportion. I like the wide ones that have interesting buckles and fronts but wide stretchy elastic backs. My favorite right now are a faux tortoise shell (matches so many things) and a bright kelly green belt.


Joni February 26, 2008 at 12:58 pm

I second the sash suggestion (sashgestion?) I love sashes and tied belts; they just add something to a dress that a plain ol’ belt does not.I’m seeing a lot of shirtwaists and wrap dresses. Since I’ll be nursing again pretty soon (as soon as this darn baby vacates my uterus already) I have to say, Hallelujah! I had to make do with a lot of skirts and tops the first two times around.Now, if I only had a machine that does buttonholes…


Cel Petro February 26, 2008 at 2:18 pm

The rick rack is sublime. Credibility…like when you run for pres. and they dig up your blog where you decry belts and then you…wore one ’cause the dress looked good with a belt?


Samantha February 26, 2008 at 3:30 pm

i am third-or-fourthing the sash. You can make one out of novelty fabric that clashes Duro-style, and has a little snap to hold it. I have a belt cum sash- it is all pleated fabric till it slides through a metal closure. it’s nice. you could pull it off. :) anyways, half the fun of rants is that they are generalizations but there are always exceptions. Like fast food is always unhealthy except when you have no food at all.


Michelle February 26, 2008 at 3:53 pm

OOh – I love this! I can totally imagine wearing it with big bright yellow beads.If you do end up making a fabric belt (although I don’t think it needs it) I bright yellow vintage buckle would be perfect!


Sugardale February 26, 2008 at 4:22 pm

As far as belts go…You could make your own belt. In an ideal world you would still have enough of that same fabric left to conjure up a belt. There is an issue of Threads that features an article on how to custom cover the belt buckle. It is so great. For almost every dress I make (especially one with a waistline seam) I custom cover a belt to go with it, and they get easier every time. Anyway, it is the March 2007 issue #129. You can buy it online at


THE BLUEST BUTTERFLY February 26, 2008 at 7:33 pm

I look forward to your thoughts on belts. I hadn’t noticed that there was a belt craze….I will have to start being more observant. I like nice tights. I am going to attempt making gradient tights.


Altissima February 26, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Several people have suggested a sash. I also thought along those lines – a wide ribbon in cherry red, magenta or deep plum would look lovely.


Katana Barnett February 27, 2008 at 2:02 am

Gah! I really WISH i could sew over your shoulder one day… if you know what I mean. A Day in the Sewing Room with Erin would be an interesting thing to watch. Kindof like a Secret Lives of Dresses.


Anonymous February 27, 2008 at 8:04 am

in my mind, this dress is screaming for a self belt-SCREAMING !john


Bettsi February 27, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Saturday I had the pleasure of doing a re-con on an eighties shirtdress. I made a self belt with an elastic insert in the back and made covered buckle for it too. I was very proud of my engineering work! However, I must second the idea of a grossgrain ribbon sash. Also, someone else suggested the aqua tights and sweater and I wholeheartedly agree. A divine combination!


Jo February 29, 2008 at 5:15 am

Training as a Home Ec teacher we were taught to use interfacing which was no heavier weight than the fabric being interfaced, ie heavy wool, heavier interfacing (it was woven horse hair and wool interfacing on our tailored suits and there were different weights in that too to use on heavier and lighter weight wools, but I don’t think they make it now a days!!)If silk use a similar weight. Nothing stiffer than the fabric you are using to make the garment.


Anonymous March 1, 2008 at 10:10 am

Perhaps you’d like the above-mentioned fastenings better under their English name, ‘hook & eye’? J.


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