Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An "Easy-to-Make" Chemise Dress

Well, it's done. The very first project in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. There were some tough times, but I persevered. I also discovered that there's a very good reason that "easy-to-make" is in quotation marks.





"The chemise dress is a wonderful starting point for your sewing career. There is no waistline seam . . . you just cinch it in with a belt."--VoNBBS




Ha! I just can't get over the fact that the editors of VoNBBS considered this a project for an absolute beginner. Sure, there's no waistline seam, but there's also a mandarin collar, a faced slit opening in the front, a thread chain button loop at the neckline, and bias-cut cuffs. I mean, really. If this was the first dress I ever tried to make, I think it would have ended up being my last.

In any modern sewing book, I think we all know what the first project for a beginner will be: a wrap skirt. It's just inevitable. I can't recall the last time I've seen anyone wearing a wrap skirt, but sewing books seem to think they're an integral part of any wardrobe.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about the making of the chemise dress. I was apprehensive about this project, to say the least. Sure, it looks great on the model with the 22" waist, but what other woman really wants all that extra fabric bunched up around her waist? No, thank you.

I realized that fabric choice would be even more crucial than usual with this project. I wanted something that would drape, rather than bunch up, around the waist. But it needed to have enough body to make the tailored cuff and collar. You might be able to guess where I went: the 4 ply silk.

I did stray from the original dress pattern and book instructions quite often (guess I was feeling rebellious). I shortened the pattern by 4 inches. I made use of some of my modern luxuries, like serging rather than hand-overcasting the raw edges. I also added interfacing to the collar, neckline facing, and cuffs. Other projects in VoNBBS (the tailored ones, like the suit and coat) make use of sew-in interfacing, but the dresses and skirts do not, oddly enough. I used a purchased belt from Anthropologie.

The most interesting thing about this dress is that, to me, it looks almost contemporary. This shape certainly isn't what we associate with the early 50's, anyway.

I'm just happy to be moving on from this project. Hemming it really got me down, as you might have heard. I think this was partially because the hemline looks different depending on whether you're wearing a belt or not. VoNBBS instructed to wear a belt while marking the hem placement, but in retrospect, I think it would have made more sense not to wear a belt, and made sure the hem was straight as it hung down naturally. It still looks rumply to me from all the fussing, but ah well. But no sense dwelling on that now.

Next up from VoNBBS is the full, gathered skirt in gingham. But I'm going to take a little break for other projects, I think. I don't want to risk VoNBBS fatigue!

31 comments:

  1. I was really curious to see how this dress was going to turn out -- and it's beautiful! I love the colour and the belt really finishes it off.

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  2. What a pretty dress! I wonder if, given when the book was written, there was an expectation that the beginning sewist would have a mother (hen) figure around to demystify instructions and otherwise give hands-on help? I'm with you -- not sure I would have kept sewing if I'd had to sew that one alone!

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  3. Thank you both! Antoinette, I wondered the same thing. And also, if the 1952 concept of an absolute beginner was different from ours . . . if perhaps it was assumed that you had been exposed to more sewing knowledge.

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  4. It really looks wonderful! I admit, I was thinking it might not...it's so odd.

    I also wonder if the beginner was expected to not actually be a beginner -- I know that quite some time later my mother still had to take 4 full years of home ec in high school, not to mention learning to mend etc with her mother. (although, she hated and hates sewing so she would have never even picked up the vogue book!)

    Looking forward to the skirt!!

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  5. that is, I mean the PATTERN is odd, not your dress!! lol

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  6. Yes, this being the first project is very strange. My guess would be that the portrait blouse and the skirts (the gathered one especially) would be first before you moved on to project with more definite details. Again, another reason why this book was a one-off publication?

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  7. No worries, Sarah, I knew what you meant! I've done a bit more research on chemise dresses in the 50s, which I'll post tomorrow.

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  8. I think that sewing a waist seem is WAY easier than the neckline and bias cut cuffs would be on that dress! My first dress was similar, in that it was just two pieces and sleeves but it didn't have any of the fancy facing or cuffs!

    It looks beautiful and while I see what you mean about the hem, I think after you wear it you will stop noticing it b/c if you hadn't pointed it out, I would have never noticed.

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  9. The dress looks fabulous! My favorite color. I think, the 4 ply silk is addictive!
    My mom was born in 1940 and was the eldest of 5. She learned from her busy mother. I don't think sewing was a hobby like it is thought of now. It was a necessity and learned no matter what. My mom said that she didn't enjoy it but she wanted nice clothes--and she made a chemise for her first job! I have 3 kids and today teaching my daughters to sew isn't a necessity like say learning to ride a two wheel bike. I will if they want to learn which is a totally different concept.Does my ramblings make sense?
    My mom did tell me that the inside of many of her and her friends garments were messy. They never finished the raw edges! That made me laugh...maybe she didn't follow the book!

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  10. I love it! It's amazing how modern it looks, even though you did use a vintage pattern. I'm so impressed. :)

    I couldn't exactly tell your tone, but it seems that you don't like the wrap skirt as a beginner's project. What do you recommend instead?

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  11. Gertie,

    I does look like a hard project but it turned out really cute. I stumbled upon your blog and am very inspired by it. I have only sewn a few skirts and one dress for myself. Is there a beginning/moderate dress that you would recommend? I saw that you reviewed several of the Colette patterns. Are they easy enough for a medium skill level? Are there features I should stay away from? I'd love your recommendations!

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  12. Cindy, that is so funny about not finishing the raw edges. Can you imagine? I would go crazy!

    Christina, I didn't mean to sound snarky about wrap skirts! It's just funny that no one actually seems to wear them, yet they're featured in all these sewing books. And for good reason, actually--they don't require any closures, which can be tricky for a first project.

    I actually started with curtains (super easy! and fun!), but if you want to make a garment first (and you're not intimidated by zippers), I would try a simple a-line or straight skirt. Two great books have patterns you might want to try: SEW Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp and Sew U by Wendy Mullin.

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  13. Thanks, Stephanie! You might want to try a simple sheath dress for your next project. They easy and flattering. Plus, there are tons of great patterns out there, contemporary and vintage alike.

    The Colette patterns have great instructions, but the ones I've tried were a little involved, i.e. lots of pieces, and special features like hidden pockets. But definitely don't shy away from them! I would maybe just get one more dress under your belt before you give one a go.

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  14. Fabulous interpretation of an old style! Where can we get this book from?

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  15. Gail, I found mine on Alibris.com for around $10. I've also seen some on eBay. You kind of have to keep searching for a good price. There's one that's been on rubylane.com forever for $75--I wonder if anyone will ever buy that copy!

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  16. Hi - delurking.
    This looks so much like something my mother would have worn.
    I'm thinking that by the time a young lady was ready to wear such a dress, she would have scads of experience sewing, just by the way public education handled things in those days. I was born in '53, and we had to take home-ec. My simple A-line dress would be nothing compared to the chemise, but I'd bet I could have muddled through it. Maybe not making anything wearable. And yes, there was always experience lurking in the next room.

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  17. Very pretty - I LOVE the color! It looks great on you!

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  18. Hee hee... I'm wearing a wrap skirt right now.

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  19. Are you, Gaidig! Perhaps there will be a wrap skirt renaissance. I better look into making one. :)

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  20. And k, thanks for delurking. I love hearing from everyone. :)

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  21. I really love this dress--especially the color (and you can tell even from the photo that the fabric is utterly luscious!). :) You did a great job, despite the dratted hem wrestling. ;)

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  22. "VoNBBS instructed to wear a belt while marking the hem placement, but in retrospect, I think it would have made more sense not to wear a belt, and made sure the hem was straight as it hung down naturally."
    Personally I have always thought that the chemise looks best when allowed to hang straight without a belt.

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  23. I also have to compliment you on your chemise dress. It is very pretty. I love the color! I think you look very attractive in that dress.

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  24. I just want to add a comment about length. You have to be very careful when trying to shorten the chemise. Fashion designer Tom D'Aura said, "the chemise must be below the knee". If you look at photos of the chemise in the 50's and again in the 80's most are at or slightly below the knee. It is all about proportion ... a longer length gives the illusion of a slimmer silhouette. I saw an example of a lady that tried to take 8 inches off a chemise pattern. The result was a dress that looked like a sack!

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  25. Hi Gertie. Love this dres s(and your blog!), could you please let me know what is the pattern number/other info so I can try and find it?

    Cheers and good lcuk with finding the last patterns, I absolutely LOVE the Full-Skirted Dress on tour list...

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  27. Great dress!! Just came to your blog, so I'm about to go through all the projects completed to date. Great thing you're doing :D
    I wanted to say, the first project I made sans pattern (not the first thing I sewed) was in fact, a wrap skirt!! LOL It doesn't tie however, It uses buttons (two on either side of the front) to fasten at the front :) It has a handkerchief hem, again at the front :) I was thrilled with my first (and only to date - whoops! I own a machine now :) ) finished self-drafted project.

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  28. Your blog is so amazing and helpful! I can't wait to keep following and see what you come up with :)

    Sarah x
    http://gildedgrandiosity.blogspot.com/

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  29. I'm confused. Where is the pattern? I'm not so very creative, I need to have an actual pattern. I just started reading this blog, so maybe I'm missing something?

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  30. alaskapysch, I made it from a vintage pattern that I found on eBay. The number is Vogue 7940 if you want to search it out for yourself.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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