Although I don’t really consider myself to be a collector of vintage patterns, I appear to have accumulated a drawer full of them. Most have been bought cheaply from op shops or have been given to me. They range from babies patterns through to children’s, girls, teens, half-size (oh, how I wish that patterns were still published in half sizes) to misses, women’s and even some men’s. Some were published in the 40s or 50s, many in the 60s or 70s. I don’t use them often, but am really pleased that I pulled out Butterick 6599 to make Clare her birthday dress this year. I warn you, there are going to be loads of photos in this blog post, because I am so pleased with the finished result!
To me, the cover artwork on the pattern looks as though it was published in the 1950s. However, the price was 35c, and decimal currency started in Australia in 1966. I couldn’t find a copyright or publication date on the pattern, although it does say printed in the USA. So maybe it is an American copy of the pattern, hence the price being in cents. Any vintage pattern aficionados who could shed more light on this?
My copy is in size 8, for a 26 inch chest. Clare pretty much fits into this range. The pattern cover describes the dress as: Girl’s dress, sun-top or puffed sleeve bodice. She wants them both! (A) Elasticised sleeves are puffed. Contrasting cinch belt really nips the waist. (B) Sundress has a cuffed bodice, double shoe-string straps, cuffs and straps are in contrast. Circular skirt in all views.
Oh yes, that’s definitely a circular skirt! It was lovely working with this old single sized pattern. I didn’t trace it but just cut it and used it! Actually, many of the pieces were already cut, and one of the skirt pieces had been shortened significantly, so I had to make sure during the cutting process that I remembered to cut it to the same length as the other skirt piece. The fabric is cotton voile from Spotlight. It was so sheer that I decided to underline the entire dress in white cotton. I really didn’t want any show through at the seams, darts or facings. To underline it I simply cut out all the pieces again in the soft solid white cotton, then treated the two pieces – the fashion fabric and underlining – as one.
It was fun working from vintage instructions. All the instructions were written on one double-sided sheet.
Clare chose the view with puffed sleeves, and decided that she didn’t want the belt. In a miraculous cutting-out fluke, I managed to get the peacock on the bodice to pretty much match across the waist seam onto the skirt.
The pattern pieces and construction techniques for the sleeves and bodice were particularly interesting. The sleeves are gathered at the bottom into a bias band that is cut to size to fit the upper arm, and at the top they extend into the shoulder straps with elasticised casings. The bodice/sleeve assembly was reminiscent of assembling a raglan top in some ways. The top of the sleeve was faced to allow for the casings, and the elastic inserted before the sleeve was attached to the bodice.
The outside of the sleeve, showing the casings and how it attaches to the bodice:
And a photo from the inside:
Once the bodice and sleeves have been joined, the bodice front and back neckline facings are attached. At this stage I was fairly certain that the bodice neckline was likely to be much too wide for Clare. Even though the pattern is only for size 8, it has front and back bodice darts which are really more appropriate for a girl who is developing a bust. And yes, the bodice gaped at the front on Clare. However, it was fine at the back.
We played around with the front a little bit before deciding to utilise the front facing to simply sew an elasticised casing across the front to bring it in a little. This echoes the gathers from the elastic across the shoulders, and makes the dress fit nicely across Clare’s chest.
And yes, that photo was taken during the fitting process – there is a safety pin in it! The skirt pieces were attached to the front and the back bodices before the side seams are sewn. The pattern instructs you to use a zip in one side seam “inserted as per the manufacturer’s instructions”. I sewed the dress together along the side seams, and Clare was able to wriggle into it without a zip, so we left it out completely! However, there is always the option of adding it back in again if needed as time passes and Clare grows. The side seams (which continue into the sleeve seams) were sewn by machine, pressed open and the edges of the seam allowances finished on the overlocker, so it won’t be hard to add a zip if I have to.
The skirts on the pattern illustration were obviously drawn with a petticoat/crinoline underneath to give them the “boof” that was so fashionable at the time. Clare isn’t interested in wearing hers with a crinoline. It’s just as much fun to twirl without one!
I did intend to hem the skirt by hand, but in the end I sewed it down by machine after running the overlocker around it first to bring it in a little then turning it up about 5/8″. I figured that there was already top-stitching along the top of the bodice and sleeves for the elastic casing, and Clare wanted to wear it! However, the sleeve bindings were turned and hand-stitched in place after the side and sleeve seams were sewn.
Sizing is an interesting thing – this is the straight size 8. I left the dress length and bodice length as per the pattern, and both look pretty much perfect for Clare, yet there was still plenty of width in the bodice. I wonder how much children’s sizing has changed over the years? Clare is slim, but I imagine that she is possibly a similar build to the average child at the time the pattern was designed.
Looking at these photos, I possibly should have hemmed the skirt and underlining pieces separately. However, treating them as one has given the skirt a lovely weight and swing to it. I’ll think further on that and change it later if I wish. I have put all of the photos to do with this dress into a Flickr set here if you are interested, including some of the pattern instructions and pattern pieces (although some of these are slightly blurry). It was a highly enjoyable make for me and I am so pleased that Clare is so happy with it. Here’s one last photo to finish off!