Rockabilly Dress

I have never made or worn a strapless, or halter neck dress before, so this dress was quite a new experience for me. I have found it to be quite liberating though, a bit of a personal achievement! I also tried out some new-to-me dress construction techniques when making this dress, so I’ve taken a whole lot of photos of the inside of the dress to show you what I did.

The Pattern

Firstly – the pattern! This is the Rockabilly Dress, designed by Designer Stitch for Vintage Made magazine. The pattern is for a dress with:

* a fitted bodice with princess seams
* sweetheart neckline
* halter strap
* full circle skirt
* back invisible zipper

The magazine is available from Artwear Publications. The magazine is available in hard copy or pdf. The hard copy includes the paper pattern, the pdf includes the pdf pattern files.

The magazine itself is really lovely, the articles in this edition are all related to Rockabilly and vintage nostalgia, it makes a great read. And, something that is very exciting for me, there is a two-page spread of the Designer Stitch pattern testers – including me!

It makes me feel a bit like a supermodel lol!

I made a toile of the bodice before I cut into my fashion fabric, I started at the size that matched my full bust, and then pinched out the extra above and underneath the bust line. I made the toile out of plain calico and was able to draw on it with a sharpie to get really precise marks of where I wanted my stitching lines to be. When I was happy with the toile I traced new pattern pieces and adjusted the seam allowances, grain lines and other markings.

When I made my final version it was still a bit loose around the upper edge at the back, so I took it in a small bit more, of course this was after I had inserted the zipper…so there was a bit of unpicking and hand stitching there.

The Fabric

I used a quilting cotton for this dress, not what I normally do, but I fell in love with this totally decadent fabric as soon as I saw it. The colours are so vibrant, and its a bit hard to see in these photos, but there is sparkly glitter all over it too.

Note: this fabric, and the lining were incredibly difficult to photograph, they show up every single piece of fluff and every crinkle while the stitching details seemed to disappear! As a result, some of the photos are intentionally super-exposed, so I apologise if that’s not your thing, but I hope that you can see the details.

I used a plain black cotton batiste for the bodice lining, and also the inside of the halter strap – because I found that the glitter on the main fabric is a bit scratchy, especially around my neck.

Modifications

Okay, so I did add some structure to this dress:

* Bodice Lining
* Boning in the bodice
* horsehair braid to the hem
* side seam pockets

Bodice Lining

The pattern is designed with a facing, but because I wanted to add boning, I needed to add a lining.

I cut the lining using the same pattern pieces as the outer bodice, but…I still used the facing as well. Why? Because, the lining is cut on the same grain as the main fabric, so it doesn’t add any stability to the neckline, which could easily ease out and end up gaping or becoming misshapen.

The facing is cut on a different grain because it is cut as a single piece for the front bodice and two mirror images for the back bodice, rather than separate pieces for each of the bodice panels (this is a princess seam bodice so there are three front bodice panels and four back bodice panels), and in addition, the facing is interfaced.

So, facing is interfaced and joined at the side seams, then I finished the lower edge with my overlocker. The wrong side of the facing was then basted to the right side of the assembled lining at the neck edge and then they are treated as a single piece.

The lower edge of the facing, is hand stitched to the lining at the end, after the boning is inserted. I hand stitched the lining all around the lower edge at the waistline, and also along each side of the zipper.

Bodice Boning

The whole point of the lining was so that I could include some boning in the bodice. When I was working on my toile I noticed that the upper edge might sag a little, so I decided that I would try using some spiral steel boning for the first time. This is what it looks like:

I used a pair of my husband’s pliers to trim it to the right lengths and attach the little caps to the ends. I believe that there are proper tools for doing this, which I might need to invest in, because it was quite difficult to do. But I did get there in the end. I used the various instructions in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book as a guide for the placement of my boning.

I actually used bias binding to make the channels to insert the boning, these were stitched in place on the wrong side of the lining, so you only see the stitching on the outside.

I put the boning each side of the centre back zipper, at the back princess seams, the side seams, and diagonally from the top of the side seam down towards the lower edge of the front princess seam.

The boning helps to keep the bodice panels sitting flat and prevents them from gradually slipping down, especially at the back. To be honest, I’ve never felt so comfortable in a strapless bodice – there is no way that this dress would fall down, even without the halter strap, the extra steps to construct the bodice were definitely worth it.

Horsehair Braid

Another new-to-me construction idea was the use of horsehair braid in the hem. This dress has a circle skirt, and therefore a curved hemline, and it is not the easiest thing to get a neat hem edge on the curve. I accidentally purchased a rather large amount of this particular horsehair braid, so I think that I will be using it on a few more dresses yet to come!

Essentially I used the horse hair braid as a facing, I stitched it by machine to the right side of the lower edge of the skirt and then turned it to the inside, where I hand stitched along the upper edge of the braid. The braid is constructed on the bias, which I hope you can see in the photos, so it sort of squishes and stretches out depending on where it is pulled to. So it was really easy to attach.

I added some fabric to cover the raw edges of the horse hair braid, it is quite scratchy, so this is necessary. The resulting effect is a skirt that has a good shape to it, even without a pettiskirt underneath. (I am wearing a pettiskirt underneath in my modelled shots).

Pockets

What would I do if a dress didn’t come with pockets? Make them! I added some basic pockets into the side seams. Nothing too fancy there.

My Rockabilly Dress

I really love this dress, its one of the most fun things that I’ve every worn. Its also one of the most comfortable, I’ve never really liked halter neck dresses because I don’t like the sensation of pulling on the back of my neck, but with the boning and proper fitting of this bodice, the halter ends up being decorative rather than functional, and the dress would stay up just fine without it – although I do like the look of it, it is such a feminine detail.

Well I hope you enjoyed this look inside my Rockabilly Dress, if you have any questions please feel free to ask me in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

4 Comments

  1. Good grief, woman! How did you manage to not wear a halter dress before? You’re perfect for the pin-up look!
    And I’m so impressed with you tackling the steel boning. I make corsets and I’m still scared to start working with steel — the snipping and the tipping is intimidating. You go, girl!

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