When I was a teenager I learned to sew mainly using vintage paper patterns. I’ve always loved the vintage styling of the drawn models, as well as variety in the construction of the pattern pieces. I inherited quite a lot of patterns from my Mum, and both of my Grandmothers, and I have also added to my collection through numerous eBay or op shop finds.
I find it quite interesting how the little details of the clothes have changed over the years, and also how particular elements are often repeated across several variations of similar designs. These next few patterns share some design features at the neckline and front fastening – I am particularly enamoured with the extended button tab on this one:
This particular pattern dates from 1958 and is one of several that I have, where I don’t have the actual pattern envelope, instead I have the page from the pattern book!. (I bought these in a bulk lot from eBay, I’m guessing they originated in a shop at one time). The dress features a set-away collar, front button fastening, full skirt, and has a choice of short sleeves or sleeveless option. I really like the embellishment of the light brown coloured dress in the foreground – with the lace on the collar and banded around the skirt in the same colour as the main fabric.
This next pattern, Butterick 9536, from 1960 also features a similar extended button tab, but this time with a shawl collar that makes me think of Air Hostess uniforms.
Simplicity 4400, from sometime in the 1950s has a slight difference to the button tab – this time, it has two rows of buttons! I really love this look.
This McCall’s pattern from 1960 seems to have dropped the extended button tab but has kept the neckline and collar style, it has also gone to a full gathered skirt style, losing the side-pleats That the other patterns feature. This pattern is somewhat interesting to me, because it contains a basic dress, but with sleeve variations – kind of multi-seasonal!
And finally, I have this Simplicity 3085, exact date unknown, but I’m guessing late 1950s, maybe 1960.
Which Pattern to Choose?
Simplicity 3085 is very similar to Simplicity 2461, with almost exactly the same collar and neckline, except that this one also comes with the option of a slim skirt and longer sleeves. Both of these patterns have waist darts on the bodice and side pleats on the skirts. For 2461 there are options to have the darts sewn as darts, or as tucks, 3085 just has the tucks.
The more important difference, when I was deciding which one of these I was going to make, was length of the front button opening. On 2461 the button opening ends at the waistline, which means that it has a side zipper – this was not an attractive option for me and seems unnecessarily fiddly. I would have switched it to a back zipper invisible opening if I really needed to.
However, 3085 has a longer button opening, which extends beyond the waistline, and no additional zipper opening/closure. So this is the pattern that I decided I was going to use.
Recreating the Pattern
The big problem with vintage patterns is that they almost always only come with a single size included. And its not very often that I can find my size, although this one, Simplicity 3085, is close. So, I’m not able to make it straight out of the packet.
So, I needed to either adjust the pattern…or recreate it from a basic pattern block that I know fits me well.
I chose the second option – like many other frustrated sewists I have spent many hours attempting to adjust patterns to fit me, and been quite disappointed with the results, I do, however, have a fitted bodice pattern that does fit me, pretty much perfectly.
I used the patterns from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book (GUDB). Now, this isn’t a sales post about that book, you could use any basic fitted bodice pattern to do what I’m going to show you, as long as it fits you properly.
It has taken almost a year of fine-tuning this pattern, during that time I made about 10 wearable dresses (some I have written about: Rose Border Print Dress, Red Dress & Floral Dress, Collared Dress, Floral Rockabilly Dress, and the one that started it all – Lemon Dress). I have adjusted the pattern with small tweaks so that it is now at a point where I am happy with it.
My personal basic bodice pattern has waist darts on the front and back bodice, side bodice darts, and is intended to have an invisible zipper at the back. Note: I used to think that I didn’t need the waist darts, but … as it turns out, I really do need the definition and structure that the darts provide. I recreated the bodice design from the Simplicity pattern by using this basic bodice as a starting point.
These drawings show my “plan of action”, essentially, for the bodice I needed to add a self-facing to the front, and convert the back bodice from being two separate pieces, to a single piece cut on the fold.
I also used the side-pleated skirt from the same GUDB, the skirt from the pattern is so similar in style that adjusting this skirt to match was quite easy.
I used the original pocket pieces, the pockets on this dress are within the side seam, but they join onto the waist seam. I quite like this method of attaching them, it makes them sit very neatly.
I used the short sleeves from GUDB, the sleeve cap on the Simplicity pattern was not particularly unique and there are no special design features there, so I just used the simple short sleeve pattern that I already have.
New Pattern Pieces Drafted
So this is what my new front bodice pattern piece looks like. I traced the self-facing detail from the original pattern, marking the various dots and button/buttonhole placement.
You can see where I have crossed out the lines for the front waist dart and my original “v” neckline, as these will not be used. I have converted the dart to be two small tucks. My bust dart and armhole are unchanged. The original pattern was close enough to my size that I didn’t really need to make any adjustments to the position of the buttons/buttonholes, or the shape of the front neckline.
For the back bodice, I removed the seam allowance from the centre back, this can now be cut on the fold. I converted the waist dart to become two small tucks, exactly the same as for the front. And because I had used a v-neck bodice, I need to raise the back neck a small amount – the v-neck has a slightly lower neckline at the back (which I actually hadn’t noticed before now).
For the skirt, I added the self-facing. Again, I was able to trace this directly from the original pattern, and use the markings for the buttons/buttonholes. I had to add seam allowance down the entire centre front as well, and, just like double-entry bookkeeping, I then had to remove the seam allowance from the centre back seam so that it could be cut on the fold instead.
I kept the length of my skirt pattern from GUDB, the finished length is actually the same as the vintage pattern (so I guess it must be a standard length then?), although I see that the Simplicity pattern has a 3 inch turn up for the hem – that is a lot for a curved hem, I’m quite impressed with the ladies sewing those skirts back then, they would have had to ease that hem quite a lot to make it fit smoothly.
My last pattern piece is the collar, which I drafted completely from scratch to perfectly match my finished bodice pieces. I used the dimensions of the original pattern piece, it tapers from the back, where it is wider, towards the front, where it narrows slightly.
Constructing the Dress
I had no issues with the construction of this dress, I am familiar with the methods used, and it followed a process that I am comfortable with. I used a regular straight stitch on my sewing machine, and neatened the raw edges with my overlocker – both machines are Heavy Duty Singer models.
I used a plain navy blue linen as the main fabric, I was having visions of recreating the look of the blue dress that is on the top right of the drawing for pattern 2461, using some wide vintage white lace that I have hoarded away for something special.
Unfortunately, I am now regretting my fabric choices, because I hate this dress.
I hate it enough that I am not even going to finish making it! And its all because of the fabric, which is too stiff, too drab, too bulky, too … matronly (shudder).
I tried re-washing and tumble-drying it to see if it would soften up, but it didn’t. And I’m quite sad about that, even just picking it up to move it makes my skin crawl – it really is awful, I have resigned myself to the fact that it is a failure – but not a complete failure!
I did put it on, pin it closed, and take some quick photos, because it does fit well. So, all my pattern drafting worked!
The basic bodice that I’ve been working on for about a year, fits well, and is a good starting point for almost anything that I would like to create – so that is what I’m taking away from this experience, and I feel sort of self-validated that the previously frustrating and mentally exhausting experience that was involved in the fitting of a pattern has now become a whole lot easier for me.
So I’m happy that the shoulders fit well, the armhole is the right size, and the bust dart is in the right place.
I like that the waist fits and is straight – rather than having an unintended high-low that I have corrected in previous versions of this bodice pattern, however, I’m not a fan of using tucks instead of darts. I understand that it creates a blouse effect (noting that it would be worn with a belt), but I don’t think that’s the most flattering silhouette for me.
And finally, although I like the fit of the bodice, I think my sleeves need a bit of work…so maybe that job for next time.
Thanks for reading!