This entry will take care of two of my 2012 sewing project goals — a 1950s pink “housewife” dress and making matching Easter dresses for my daughter and myself — because I ended up combining those two goals into one. Sounds clever, right? I actually had no other choice. I kept running into problems that forced me to change my plans. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men / Gang aft agley, as Robert Burns once wrote.
My 1950s pink housewife dress was supposed to match an exhibit at the museum that features a replica pink and green 1950s kitchen. I thought it would be a fun living history opportunity. I picked up Butterick 4790, the famous walkaway dress, for 25 cents during a pattern purge sale at JoAnn, and I found a good guide for sewing it at EdelweissPatterns.com. I also picked up a few yards of a lovely retro-ish pink and green rose print cotton fabric and a coordinating solid green cotton fabric for the dress binding. I ended up setting the project aside so I could get an early start on our Easter dresses.
I started working on making matching mother and daughter Easter dresses using this 1940s Mary Dunbar pattern for a girl’s dress and this 1940s Marian Martin pattern for a woman’s dress. Both have a lovely scallop motif, and I thought they’d be so cute if they were made out of the same fabric.
When I started working on the muslin for the Mary Dunbar pattern, I realized that those scallops were pretty scary. I wasn’t entirely sure how to sew them together. Sewing convex curves to concave curves doesn’t intimidate me, but this was different. These were little bitty scallops, not sweeping curves. It also looked like the dress might be too big for my daughter, even though it’s technically her size. I backed away from the project and decided to put it off for a year until my daughter grew a bit and I figured out those wacky scallops.
I set aside the idea of making matching dresses and attempted to use a different pattern for my daughter’s Easter dress: this 1940s or 1950s McCall sundress and bonnet pattern. So very adorable…and so very annoying, as I discovered while making a muslin. It also ended up being too big for my daughter. Either she’s slim for her age, or a modern 2T is very different from a vintage size 2. Once again, I set the pattern aside. Easter was still weeks away, so I had time to find something else.
That’s when I decided to make my daughter’s dress match my own 1950s housewife dress.
I picked up extra pink rose fabric at JoAnn. I also hunted down a pattern that would pass as 1950s. I didn’t want to duplicate the walkaway look for a toddler because the project was already becoming too stressful and frustrating, so I figured that a basic sleeveless dress with a poofy skirt would work. Simplicity New Look 6577, View D was perfect. I made a Frankenpattern out of the New Look 6577 bodice and the skirt from the 1940s-1950s McCall sundress (just so I could say it had something vintage in it).
Instead of binding the edges to match the Butterick walkaway I was going to make, I used coordinating piping made from the green fabric. Thank you, dreadful 1860s day dress, for helping me learn about piping! I sandwiched the piping between the pink rose fabric exterior and a green fabric lining. Even though the pattern didn’t call for a lined bodice, it was ridiculously easy to add.
I also changed the back so that it has a button closure instead of a zipper. Seriously, Simplicity, what is your obsession with zippers in children’s clothing? Zippers are stiff and annoying, and making buttonholes isn’t any more difficult than wrestling a zipper under a zipper foot. Besides, a buttonhole closure lets you add adorable buttons! Anyway, aside from the zipper and the lack of lining, this is actually a pretty good pattern as far as I can tell. Simplicity’s modern adult patterns seem to be pretty terrible, but so far, my experiences with their modern children’s patterns have been positive. Then again, it’s hard to goof up kids’ patterns. They require minimal fitting because childrens’ bodies are essentially straight up-and-down with few variations in their shoulders, arms, neck size, and what not.
Once I had finished my daughter’s dress, I started on my own. I went into this project knowing that the modern version of the walkaway dress has serious issues, as explained by EdelweissPatterns. I followed her instructions to the letter, though I had to retrace the front of the dress by hand because I didn’t own a set of French curves at the time. The end result was a fitting disaster. No matter what I did, the wraparound front would not work on my body. I simply could not get it to lay smooth. Maybe it’s my body — I have deep-set curves that demand special darts and resist anything flat or straight — or maybe it’s just the terrible finicky pattern. I think it’s both: this pattern has serious issues and even a properly altered version only works on certain bodies. Some people have gotten it to work, while others report that the dress looks sloppy on them in spite of fitting the pattern and sewing the dress together with care. I can’t personally recommend the pattern or the tutorial on EdelweissPatterns, and I will leave it at that. The project was very stressful and upsetting. I don’t want to dwell on it, nor do I want to criticize EdelweissPatterns for something that isn’t her fault. Gang aft agley indeed.
I gave up on making a walkaway and decided to salvage what I could of the plan. I made another Frankenpattern from the walkaway circle skirt and merged the walkaway bodice’s arm openings and neckline style with the fit and structure of the bodice from Butterick 5032. Instead of using bias tape binding, I lined the bodice and added piping to the neckline and arm openings, just like I did with my daughter’s dress. I also installed a side zipper (poorly…but it was my first real attempt at a side zipper!).
Here’s the result.
I’ve added a crinoline underneath this dress and I used a vintage belt to accentuate the waist.
Here’s the side zipper. At the time, I couldn’t quite figure out how to sandwich the zipper between the lining and the exterior fabric and make it look much neater on the inside and outside of the dress. I later realized that I should have used an invisible zipper! Lesson learned.
And here’s a parting shot of the dresses side-by-side.