An Interesting Failure

Simplicity 4561

I can't remember when I bought this pattern, but it was recently, and I was so excited about it … the simple bodice plus the pocketed skirt seemed PERFECT. I even made a special trip to Vogue Fabrics to buy black denim! But what I got was this:

Not what I pictured

Unfortunately, the neck is too low, and the soft pleats, when made in denim, stick out in a bunchy and annoying way.

And here's the back, with more bunchy pleats:

Not what I pictured

The pockets are edged with metal zipper (and now I'm not so upset that the waist seam didn't match exactly when I put in the side zipper):

Not what I pictured

And I used the last of my Futura-font fabric to make the neck facing (I figured it pops up every once in a while [yes, even with tacking it at the side seams and understitching] so I might as well make it fun):

Not what I pictured

I'm calling this an interesting failure, because, well, when you get right down to it, all failures are interesting. I love to know the "why" when things go wrong. This dress *should* have been a success: pockets, black denim, scoop neck, zippers … no construction issues, no fitting issues … and yet, when I tried it on, I went "Ugh!"

I think this may be salvageable, though. I can take the waist apart (another ugh) and change the pleats to darts. Not much I can do about the low neckline for this version, but I could make a note to bring it up an inch the next time (remembering to make a new facing pattern). I could also (again for next time) use a slightly lighter-weight fabric (this denim is just a bit too heavy). So perhaps this is not a total failure, but instead a very, very detailed (and possibly someday wearable) muslin …

0 thoughts on “An Interesting Failure

  1. Happened upon you via Laura’s Cafe au Laine blog, and i love your attitude: all failures are interesting. Reminds me of my grandmother – the sewing also reminds me of her, i can design wonderful garments in my head but have three left thumbs with needle or machine! 80)

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  2. Since the 1950s princess pattern lovelies I find are usually in a Bust Size 28 or 30″, and I am so not, I look at the shape of the pattern pieces on the back of the envelope. Generally on 1950s princess patterns, the waist is more sharply indented – there’s a definite, pronounced cut in, then flare out, as opposed to the oft-recommended “gradual taper” for the waist curve on modern princess patterns. It’s not necessarily a big cut in, but it’s sharply angled (so there may be some seam clipping to do for it to lie open or flat properly). The 1950s princess pattern – even for the 30″ bust (still sized for a B cup, remember), ALSO includes bust darts. Yes, bust darts in addition to the princess seams; this sharpens the fit over the bust. If you have a favorite princess pattern already, you can use it to make a paper copy with the above changes. If you increase the flare at the bottom of the pattern pieces to widen the skirt to a good 120″ or more (to taste), and the length as well (if necessary or desired), you will have a good, usable, fits-you-properly 1950s princess pattern in your very own size, regardless of whether ebay or our beloved vendors actually carries one in your size. You can use this to make up dresses or jumpers as you see fit, while you keep an eye peeled for that elusive vintage original in your very own measurements.

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  3. A separate comment, so it doesn’t get swallowed by all the Princess Seam Denim commentary:Erin – and anybody else who really doesn’t want to go through the whole pin fit (which doesn’t take but a couple of minutes, but sometimes you Just Don’t Feel Like It) of a bodice to make sure the neckline isn’t too much (or not enough), make a duplicate of a bodice pattern you have used before and like (I recommed using a graph-type gridded paper, so you can see how many inches or fractions of an inch more easily, but wax paper or freezer paper’s pretty darned good), and keep it pinned up on a bulletin board, or wherever you keep your Handy Stuff in the sewing room. When you have a new bodice pattern, lay the new one out on top of the Faithful Fitted Friend pattern, matching the shoulder seams at the top of the shoulder. You will see at a glance, or at least get a pretty good idea, of where the new neckline will hit you, as compared with the neckline that you usually wear. As it happens, of course, I tried to GET THAT PATTERN that didn’t quite do it for you, Erin, and I expect that in fact that neckline hits just where it works for me, because it has to work a whole lot harder to cover ground. But such is the adventure that is life. If you think this particular pattern is not going to be All That for you, I will gladly buy it, so you can drop me an email if you’d like to just make it go away and buy one you like better.

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  4. @la belladonna–thanks so much for the info on altering a princess to a 50’s style princess. I’ll be sure to wear by best cross-your-heart 18-hour bullet bra when I make one. :)

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  5. Lisa Simeone and others,I think that this problem pattern is a good example of what I call the “Why didn’t they just make the pattern like the illustration in the first place?” syndrome.(Yes, I know that this illustration was probably done for the pattern envelope after the pattern was made, but the original designer’s sketch was first.)Whatever the person’s measurements, that skirt is not flared enough to be like the illustration, and if it were flared enough, it would hang more gracefully in any fabric, and be just fine in denim. Looking at the illustration in the lighter color, each gore should be at least twice as wide at the hem as at the waist, but it looks even more like 3 times as wide.That flare would make it fit in to the waist better. And clearly the dress itself is not flared anything like that much.I say, if you have to make the drawing of the dress flare so much more to look good, and be so much longer to be well-proportioned – you should draw the pattern that way in the first place.MinaW

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  6. Minaw, OH, how I love thee. You speak a great truth, which I will now (as is my wont) elaborate upon:If you ladies have a favorite dress width, either memorize that width, or write it down. Keep it not only with the Faithful Fitted Friend bodice pattern in your sewing room, keep it in your wallet, or your Electronic Whatever. If you have a dress or skirt that’s just right, and you don’t know how wide it is, measure it. Always compare this measurement to the measurement on the pattern you are contemplating buying. Speaking as a sucker for – I mean, afficianada and collector of – princess dress patterns, the fuller the better, I have often been dazzled by the lush, flowing, graceful sweep of a New Princess Pattern – only to look on the back, and read: “Hem width: 88 inches”. And at least the hem width is LISTED on old patterns. The heck, folks – nowadays everything else BUT that is listed on the back of a pattern, but you’re supposed to read the hem width on the pattern itself! Not even on the instructions – the pattern pieces! No, I will not be buying you after all. Anyway. As it happens, an 88-inch hem width doubtless has its function in life, but not my life; I’m looking for 120″ and over, and will whip out my trusty yardstick and Make It So, if the want for the pattern is overwhelming. But I’ll be peeved. I know that 120″ works for me; I wear my skirts long, and for a fitted and flared 50s style, the longer it is, the fuller it needs to be, for proportion’s sake. (I am 5’6″ [down from 5’7″, alack], and I will buy anything from a 34″ bust to a 38″ bust, and alter it to fit, because I always have to alter it to fit; I’m an XLarge hourglass, 36D, with a short backwaist, long arms, a REALLY LONG front waist, and a lower belly pad. I give these measurements so you have some idea of Skirt Width:: La BellaDonna Height/Width.)Fifties dresses actually come in an extraordinary number of widths, from pegged wiggle dresses (comfy and practical for a day at the office, running up stairs and lugging file boxes! or … not), to straight, to modest flares with gores, pleats, or gathers, to Really, Really Full!! I think for a good many of us, we are drawn to the fit and flare of the New Look silhouette (Bar, how I love thee! It’s a different love from Minaw, but a true love still.), so we are looking for that fitted shape and full skirt. So many pattern illustrations seem to promise that, and then you look at the measurements on the back – before you buy, hopefully. Then it’s Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire. Now, if you shorten your own patterns – I know Erin prefers her hems shorter than those usually provided – you have to be careful about where you shorten them. If you just whack X number of inches off the bottom of a pattern to shorten it, you are also reducing the width of that pattern. How? Well, the widest part is at the bottom. So then it’s not really the pattern’s fault. If you need to shorten it, and there’s no “shorten here” line (there probably won’t be, on a 50s pattern), then pick a spot up about midway down the skirt. Fold up the pattern up evenly right across the entire skirt half the amount by which you want it shortened [i.e., fold it up one inch if you want it two inches shorter, two inches if you want it four inches shorter], and take your trusty yardstick and smooth out the jagged bit you get when you fold up something flared. I recommend doing this on a COPY of the pattern, and not the original pattern itself, because maybe you’ll want to sell the pattern one day. Maybe you’ll want to make your own copy of the pattern, sell the original, and buy another pattern! It will be much easier if you haven’t altered the original pattern itself.My own trusty Personal Fitted Princess Dress Pattern actually started life in the 1970s, when it was Brand New. (*sigh*) I don’t know that I made it up then, as a matter of fact, but I know it was well underway by the late 80s/early 90s. I started with a not-very-full ankle-length version of a sweetheart-necked dress with straight sleeves, and the mother pattern would be hard put to recognize her grandchildren, which are generally sleeveless, scoopnecked, very fitted through the torso, somewhat shorter than the original, and well over a yard wider at the hem; maybe two yards. A lot of brown paper has gone under the pencil since I started. It is possible to get the result you want, even if illustrations lie, and it’s possible to get a 50s dress, even if you’re Hard To Fit, large or small, in whichever direction your individual variations lie. Mostly it takes a pencil, a yardstick, and a lot of brown paper and determination. It doesn’t hurt if you’ve laid in a stash of fabric that no longer is predestined for X, because it may take several iterations to get what you want. You will then have some very pretty (if unlikely) dresses or jumpers to lounge around in, or even sleep in, if you wind up using that bunch of Christmas or Halloween print fabric to practice on. If you’re thinking of laying in some muslin (which dyes!) or cheap prints for practice, and you don’t know how much to get, what with needing New Layouts for the wider pieces, I usually reckon one full body length per piece (that is, the measurement from shoulder to hem, plus hem width). A princess dress is generally Front, Side Fronts, Side Backs, and Back – seven pieces, whether it opens in the front or back (or side – a center back seam is just easier to fit), so you would buy your fabric Body Length X 7. Now, this is probably enough to make yourself the longest, fullest princess dress imaginable; five to seven yards, between 45″ and 60″, is usually enough for an average, middlin’ sized person to work with. If you’re very tall, or if you are large, and want that 50s princess dress, I would recommend using the formula (which is about 9 yards on me) to acquire fabric.Yes, that can be a lot of fabric, and there are ways to make a 50s dress out of a lot less fabric, but the classic princess dress is made without a waistline seam. Once you throw in a waistline seam, per the pattern that Erin used here (you can use your precious fitted princess dress as a base pattern, remember!), you can move the pieces around on fabric to get a better layout. A 50s dress can be pinched out of 3 or 3 1/2 yards of 45″ fabric, and still have a hem 120″ around, if you make a half-circle skirt and cut a sleeveless bodice out of the remnants. Some folks can even get sleeves as well as the bodice out of that much.Melodie, hee! I’ll pass on the bullet bra, because it would look more like Weapons of Mass Destruction – but the one I wear definitely works on the principal of Nearer My God To Thee!

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  7. N.B:For those of you who do NOT currently have a princess dress pattern which fits the way you’d like, and who may be a trifle daunted at the prospect of flinging around a whole lot of fabric and paper, trying to get the fit right, we have yet another Sneaky Sewing Trick:Take your base princess dress pattern, and mark where the waist is on all the pieces. Draw a horizontal line across on each piece at the waistline. Draw a second horizontal line approximately four inches below this. Now copy the TOP PART OF THE PATTERN ONLY, down to the SECOND HORIZONTAL LINE. (The extra four inches is to cover any fitting challenges you may have in the front or back.) Working with this new pattern, ONLY FIT THE TOP PART OF THE DRESS. Yes, all by itself, until you’re happy with it. Now, generally a full princess skirt on a dress pattern skims a lot of body anomalies, and may not need to be fitted separately. Then again, you may have a swayback, as I do, or a high hip, etc., so you may, in fact, want to fit the skirt. You have the waistline marked on your original pattern; mark a second line two inches ABOVE the waistline (I recommend using a different colour to mark this than the one used to mark the seams copied for the top), and copy the skirt section of your pattern, and fit it, all by itself.Once you have carefully fitted each pattern section, top and bottom, in fabric, MARK THE NEW WAISTLINE SEAM ON EACH, TOP AND BOTTOM, ON THE FABRIC. If you are busty, have a bit of a belly, are swaybacked, etc., I can pretty well guarantee that the waistlines you’ve marked before fitting your patterns have shifted.Now you get to take all those pattern pieces with their new markings and adjustments, and transfer them to paper! Yes, you want to do this, because paper doesn’t stretch out the way fabric does, and your fitted muslins WILL stretch out. After you’ve marked your separate paper sections (which you might as well hang onto, because: gored skirt! fitted bodice!), one more pattern gets made: lay each bodice pattern section on its corresponding skirt section, MATCHING THE WAISTLINE SEAMS, yes, right on top of each other, and secure them. Trace all around and transfer any markings, and you now have a fitted princess seam dress pattern of your very own.

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  8. See, this is why my costume design students are taught to read the back of the pattern for suggested fabrics. A light weight denim would have worked much better. Or how about a batik print?

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  9. See, this is why my costume design students are taught to read the back of the pattern for suggested fabrics. A light weight denim would have worked much better. Or how about a batik print?

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  10. I think ya’ll are all being pretty hard on her about the “recommended fabrics”. I hardly ever consult recommended fabrics, because often the designer (I’m talking to you, Vogue patterns) has a very narrow view of what exactly would work with a pattern. I’ve only had a couple of clunkers, less as I learn more about the way different fabrics act. We’re only looking at a picture, and it could be that the fabric FELT to Erin to have better drape than it actually had.

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  11. I seldom even follow the recommended fabrics, but I do take into account the drape and behavior. I try to get something that drapes like the fabric and/or/also alter the patter to fit the behavior of the fabric I use.In Erin’s dress, I’d of added bodice darts instead of pleats and darted the soft pleat of the skirt down several inches to make it lay flat across the stomach, or in denim, avoided it all together.Necklines I don’t bother with. I’m busty and pretty much if they fit without gaping, I call it good. Erin, tho, I might add a faux dickie or something to raise it, or embellish the top to raise it as it’s been stated. Me tho, I’d show the girls off😀

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  12. Hi Erin,I love reading these comments. I can hear all the various voices too – like the queens, or the ones who say something like “just being honest here but are you crazy using denim,” and I especially like the ones who are earnestly trying to help. I heart real people. Good post. You should eff up more often. :)ps What would Diana Vreeland do?

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  13. I have the opposite problem–a denim skirt with some stretch (1% lycra?) that is too drapey. I wanted to achieve a more rugged, constructed look, but it has washed into something that just looks like light blue cotton blah. Love the zipper pockets a lot.

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  14. re the neckline: a little voice is whispering to me “camisole!”I second the motions about turning the gathery stuff into darts.I suggest that instead of what appears to have been medium weight denim you try a rayon/linen blend. Or outright rayon, which would have been used at the time I suspect.Just a thought.Karenps I personally am not thrilled with those pockets. But I don’t like them on the sketch either. YMMV.

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  15. My question would be did you use 6 ounce denim. It is very hard to find lately but might have been okay. I too have noticed that patterns do not always deliver what they say they do. I have been sewing for 48 years and I used to be able to throw together something straight from the patter, but lately the pattern illustrations tell me lies. A tee shirt pattern will show a simple sleeve and then the pattern has a huge sleeve cap that just will not work for the look. And most directions are from the old days when sewers knew the various methods that can be used as alternatives and did not need them mentioned. I think you ran into something like that. You should have just ‘known’ to adjust the neckline to your taste, not what was on the pattern. Make it into a skirt or jumper either one will work.

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  16. Add me to the list of people who blow off the “recommended fabrics” list all the time. Gamblers unite!My favorite day dress is made out of home-dec twill, which is at least as heavy as most denims out there. (mebbe slightly drapier, though.) And it’s actually not even made from a real dress pattern; it’s a heavily modified maternity blouse. (and I’m not even pregnant anymore.)Whatever works. Or, in this instance, doesn’t. You win some, you lose some, right?

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  17. Okay a belt would be good once you remove the pleats and add darts. Also you could add a faux neck edge to give it a “lift” so to speak. I think it looks good anyhow:)

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  18. Also, many sins can be hidden by a jacket or sweater. That little ballero jacket might give just enought coverage at the neckline and just enough shape to the bust area to complete the look of the dress. -Evalyn

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  19. Awwwww. I’m so sorry to hear about your Dress FAIL. It sucks when that happens. :-(However, with the link to Vogue Fabrics, you’ve now given me one more fun site to browse. Thanks!

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  20. My 2 cents…the choice of denim (and black, yuck) was the 1st mistake, it’s dreary looking enough in a pair of pleated 80’s jeans, has a mean, sad, dish-moppy look in what should be a pretty light weight summer dress, and the zipper trim is a slightly (no, a lot actually) out-of-date idea. There’s only so many times since the 1970’s when you can see it and go “Oh, what a clever idea!”, it’s just half of a zipper, not handmade lace, beaded trim, or even humble ric-rak, and I’m guessing you are way too old to be trying to do “punk”, come on, have you seen Betsy Johnson lately, she’s a fright…and not making a belt when you can see one on the pattern picture is why the waist darts/pleats show so much, I mean, they’re naked! Also, the facings really should be unobtrusive, neat, and as invisible as possible, otherwise you get that dreaded look-at-me, hand-madey look, sort of like wearing your underwear outside of your clothes. Unless that’s what you were going for.

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  21. Here, troll-y, troll-y, troll-y … Oooh, I didn’t have to call after all, one came all by itself! There’s a certain … repetition in these boorish, cowardly little posts. I’m guessing either no one visits your blog, or you got a review you didn’t like.

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  22. if this pattern did recommend denim I bet it was really what we would call twill today. Not the heavy denim we now have. I could be wrong, but I love that pattern, I also collect vintage patterns.

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  23. I was wondering about the drape on this fabric: maybe black denim’s not the right way to go? Or maybe it’s just *this* black denim. Anyway, I love the idea of dresses with pockets. I wish more of them came with them; I am a pocket aficionado.

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