Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Miss Mavis Goes to the Opera: Vintage Simplicity 5238

Good evening, friends! Tonight, we're going to talk about three things: vintage patterns, sewing with velveteen, and loving the monsters. Let's deal with the monsters first, shall we? You know the ones I'm talking about--those flawed garments that we love anyway. The dresses with wonky darts or holes from seam ripper "incidents" that see heavy rotation in our closet, nonetheless 

This dress is one such monster, I'm afraid. I love it, but it's definitely not perfect. You've been warned.

It all started with a pattern. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I would like to use more vintage patterns this year. I've collected them for eons, but was excessively lazy about sewing them up, during grad school. Tracing, grading, and making multiple muslins wasn't my idea of blissful sewing. Imagine that! Now that I have more free time, however, the prospect of a long process isn't nearly so grim. 

First out of my stash: Simplicity 5238. This cocktail dress from 1963, a favorite of Erin's, seemed like a painless way to reenter the world of vintage. It's a one dart bodice, with a box-pleated skirt and two sleeve options, long or short kimono sleeves. Even better, my copy was a size 40, which aligned pretty well with my high bust (40 inches) and waist (35 inches). One FBA and I should've been good to go!

So, I was. Three bodice muslins later. Oh, vintage ladies, your undergarments provided such amusingly improbable dart locations! During the course of my alterations, I:
  • Added a side bust dart, through a two-inch full bust adjustment (Muslin 1)
  • Moved the front waist dart one inch toward the center seam, lowered the side dart (Muslin 2)
  • Curved both darts, to make up for some underbust pooling (Muslin 3)
  • Adjusted for a sway back (Muslin 3)
  • Changed the shoulder slope angle (Muslin 3)
I also decided to eliminate the skirt's center seam, since it's just a pleated dirndl. With this particular dress, I actually changed the pleat orientation entirely, to better preserve the fabric's pattern. 

Then, we come to the velveteen. That's right, the velveteen. Heaven forbid a fabric this pretty be reserved for rabbits contaminated with scarlet fever. When I saw this black cotton velveteen, with its swirling copper floral pattern, I snatched it up for a Mood Sewing Network project. It was originally going to be a blazer, then a Kim dress, then a coat. When I looked at the suggested fabrics for Simplicity 5238, however, velveteen was first on the list. Sartorial kismet!

Of course, this pattern does have a center front bodice seam and a bias-cut back bodice. I cut the pattern out in one layer, to match those seams in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the skirt pieces were really wide, when compared with the 46'' fabric, so I had to center the skirt on a different line of the floral. It doesn't bother my eyes, looking instead as if the pattern builds, as we go toward the hem. That's pure, dumb luck, y'all. 

Center front pattern matching, like a boss!
Center back seam!
The back bodice matching isn't quite as on point, because trying to find a visually
agreeable bias origin point is a pain in the ass. 

When it comes to construction, velveteen is finicky. Pressing it incorrectly can cause the pile to crush and seams can't be unpicked, then altered, because sewing will make permanent lines on the fabric. To make everything easier, I used a towel draped across my ironing board, to prevent a crushed pile. Similarly, I used a very light hand with the iron itself, paired with heavy steam. (More tips on sewing velvet and velveteen can be found in Elisalex's recent blog post.) 

My other major velveteen tip? Don't wear nice things, while sewing it up. Velveteen frays like the devil, while you're sewing, and the pile turns into fluffy balls of doom. Fluff gets on everything. I serged those seams, as soon as they were sewn, and faced the hem, sleeves, and neckline with silk organza, to combat it. I was still covered in the stuff. 

Silk organza not only lends more structure to those areas, but prevents fabric deterioration. Woohoo! I sewed the velvet and organza right sides together, flipped the facings to the inside, then catch-stitched them down. Similarly, the zipper is a traditional zip, hand-picked in place. This particular piece involved quite a few hours of watching Phryne Fisher solve murders, while hand stitching all those bits in place.

Silk organza hem facing! I like visible catch-stitching, instead of blind stitches. Don't tell my grandmother.

Everything seems alright up to now, doesn't it? I didn't crush the pile or accidentally misalign my center seams. How does this dress deserve monster status? Well, check that bodice fit, kittens. The weight of the velvet, paired with a little bit of stretch, means that my perfectly fitted muslin didn't translate over. The whole thing is a touch big and those darts refuse to lie flat. With any other fabric, I could probably steam them into submission, but that's not an option here. There is some bubbling on the front, which definitely wasn't there in my final muslin. Alas, I've discovered the problem with sewing a velvet garment toile out of easy-to-please cotton...

Here's the thing, though. I really love this dress.

Rationally, I know that the bodice is imperfect and that the whole thing looks like an ill-fated attempt to upholster a blonde, but whatever. It's soft and warm and the fabric is gorgeous. There's something so delicious about wearing yards of lush, dramatically printed velveteen. My judgment may be twisted from reading about that rabbit as a child, but I adore this fabric and this dress. Perhaps I'm not completely batty, however, because Sam agrees with me. He's plotting to buy tickets to some fancy theater event soon, so that he "can dress up in a three-piece suit and take me out to show off that dress." You've got to love a man who loves your monsters, don't you?

Note: Fabric for this dress was provided by Mood Fabrics, as part of my participation in the Mood Sewing Network.

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