Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Further Thoughts on the Background Dress (with Swatches!)

Thank you all so much for your fantastic feedback on my Background Dress post! Since I've decided that this will be my next Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing project, I spent some time this weekend making very preliminary headway into tracing the pattern and re-sizing it. As I studied the pattern pieces and thought over all your advice, this dress really started to take better shape in my imagination.

First, let's talk about the silhouette. I didn't realize that this dress actually has a very pronounced a-line skirt. Who would've thunk it from this photograph in VoNBBS?

(See, the damn pattern companies have always been trying to trick us with these sneaky and misleading photographs! Ha!)

In reality, the skirt pattern is definitely FLARED. Which is fine, but let's call a spade a spade. I had originally foreseen myself modeling this skirt after my super-slim tapered Jenny skirt, but that's definitely not the intended silhouette of the pattern.

It's interesting to think what this silhouette tells us of the time period. This particular pattern was published in 1950, two years before VoNBBS itself was published. So this silhouette must have been heavily influenced by the a-line skirts of the 40s, rather than the tight wiggle dresses of the mid-50s. Isn't it telling that by the time they shot the photos for VoNBBS, the stylist was already trying to update the dress to a more current or forward-thinking silhouette? I can just see the back of that skirt clipped back with a bunch of laundry pins!

Now, onto fabric and color. Many of you gently helped me realize that my initial fabric choice (a $1.95/yard Vera Wang navy cotton-rayon faille) was all kinds of wrong. The hand was too stiff and the color was just too conservative for me to really get excited about sewing it.

Also, an aside related to color: one of you asked why VoNBBS called this the "Background Dress." I believe the answer is that this dress is meant to be a background for accessories, a sort of blank slate. It has two buttonholes around the neckline through which you can wrap a scarf (or perhaps pin some vintage sweater guards?). So, in keeping with this spirit I didn't think that the color should be too shocking, but perhaps my version of a neutral. I loved that a couple of you brought up the idea of purple. So, with purple visions swimming in my mind, I made a quick lunchtime swatch reconnaissance mission yesterday.

I looked at crepes.

Gabardines and suitings.
And, last but not least, double knits.
Lots of lovelies to choose from, eh? All in all, I'm very much digging this smoky blue-purple double knit.
I think it's still understated enough to embody the spirit of the background dress, but with a little kick. Plus, I'm loving the way it looks with my coloring and some red lipstick.

What do you think?

P.S. Readers, did you know that as a community, you are overwhelmingly pro-three quarter sleeves? I think you should run a campaign to instate three quarter sleeves on all dresses; you're a very convincing bunch! I'm happy to report that I'm taking your advice on the matter.


  1. I love the idea of "my version of a neutral." Something that looks good on you, goes with most of the clothes and accessories in your wardrobe, and generally acts as a reliable, trustworthy color in your life.

    I'd be curious to see what everyone's personal version of a neutral is. My neutrals would be dark blue (but only in the context of jeans), charcoal gray, chocolate brown, oatmeal, and black.

  2. I love the last choice as well, just enough blue to suggest it, but still leans on the purple side of life :)

    And yay for 3/4 length sleeves! I think it is going to look great.

  3. Purple is also my idea of a neutral! I have a purple handbag that I wear with EVERYTHING. I love your final choice.

    Out of curiosity, where did you stop to pick up those double-knit swatches? Do you find that some NYC-stores are more pro-swatch than others? In some stores I'm nervous to ask for swatches...

  4. Love the purple double knit. It looks great and with some sexy red lips I think this dress will place you everywhere but in the background ;-)

  5. Yes, the purple would look gorgeous on you!

  6. A A-line skirt, really? It doesn't show much on the pattern enveloppe as well... And I have to admit that as darling as the pictures of the book are, I find the way they're cut quite strange: not to show the whole garment is weird when you think that the goal is to display how superb the patterns are...

    I'd love to see this purple knit styled with red accessories! But I have a (silly) question: why the hell are those knits called 'double' (I don't think we have this termination in France)?

  7. I'm loving the purple double knit; I think it will look smashing on you (and yes, red lipstick is a must! ;) I love pairing red lips with my purple outfits)! I like the idea of "your neutrals", because it brings up something I've been mulling over a lot lately: aren't "neutrals" subjective? Excuse me as I go off on a bit of a rabbit trail here... We've been boxed into the idea that "neutrals" are things like shades of white/cream, black, gray, brown, navy, etc. But if you don't like the standard bunch of neutrals or find that they don't work in your wardrobe, who is to say that you can't make your own set of neutrals? I've been slowly working towards doing just that in my own wardrobe: medium blues, gray, purple, etc. Those have become my more flattering "base" pieces, and I'm finding that I actually use them more than garments that are in conventional "neutrals"!

    Anyway, I can't wait to see your version of this dress! :)

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  8. i've got the simplicity pattern version of this dress and i am planning on doing it either in blue, as you initially were, or in purple, for almost the same exact reasons. i'm a scarf fiend and i have several that would look amazing with a nice basic dress like this.

    as for sleeves, i'm actually all about short sleeves! good luck! i'm thrilled to see you back on VoNBBS!

  9. Oh I love the 3/4 length sleeve. I prefer to call it a "bracelet sleeve," because, well, I love bracelets. They are the only accessory about which I seem to be able to work up any sort of enthusiasm. (For myself,that is; I *love* and admire accessories of all kinds on others).

    My only concern is that bracelet sleeves seem to bunch up inside my jacket sleeves. One cannot hold them while putting on a coat. Do you have a solution for that?

    Also - I have what appears to be that same doubleknit in the same eggplant-ish color and I have been hoarding the scraps from a terrible project I made years ago. Maybe I should reconstruct it into something else? You're so inspiring!

  10. I'd worry that blue crepes would end up looking too much like a 50s flight attendant. Beautiful, but maybe not for this project. The purples and wines are absolutely gorgeous though. And yes, 3/4 length is also my preferred length, so there's definitely a trend going on there!

  11. Fascinating about the pattern and the styling. And the purple will look lovely with you hair and colouring. Is the double knit stretchy? I'm assuming not but it sounds like a stretch fabric.

  12. Carlotta: Thinking back to my fibres yarns and fabric classes that i took while I was studying textile design it has something to do with the kind of knit. Hand knitters would call it rib but the machines do it a different way. Anyway it means it looks the same on both sides and doesnt curl. Glad I didn't waste all that money for nothing. Now ask how to do a burn test.

  13. Hey everybody! To answer a few questions. Mikhaela, there are DEFINITELY stores that are more swatch-friendly than others. The friendliest is New York Elegant Fabrics on 40th street. They have swatches pinned to every bolt of fabric and you can just take them; you don't even have to ask. Paron's is my next choice for getting swatches. They recognize me at this point and are very nice about giving me swatches and even fill out little cards to go with them. The third place is Rosen and Chaddick and they also are very helpful and generous with swatches. I try not to take advantage too much. But I'll admit to grabbing dozens of swatches at NY Elegant just because I can! I got one double knit swatch from each of these stores, and my final choice comes from Rosen and Chaddick.

    And on doubleknits: Like Kate says, these are knits that are double-faced, so they look the same on both sides. They're thicker than an regular knit and much more stable. You can use them in place of wovens. (As opposed to regular knits, which you really shouldn't substitute for wovens.) The one I picked has a little bit of crosswise stretch and NO lenthwise stretch. They are very comfy too!

    Love the thoughts on neutrals; perhaps the topic deserves a post!

  14. fantastic color choice! I also just shorted the sleeves on a vintage dress I found thrifting to 3/4 length. This is definitely the way to go!

    I just want to say that I really love your blog and projects. Fantastic style, a very human approach, and beautiful designs! You've definitely been part of what's inspired me to get back to my long-unused sewing skills and machine and begin making some pieces for myself again. Cheers!

    Bird on Your Shirt

  15. I love where you are going with the color. And the sweater guards will look adorable!

  16. Thanks Gertie! Yes, Paron's definitely has been friendly about swatching in the past, but I will have to check out NY Elegant Fabrics, I've walked by but never gone in.

    I just thought of my own other personal favorite "neutral" besides different shades of purple and eggplant: chartreuse. I swear chartreuse goes with EVERYTHING. I have a little chartreuse cardigan and a pair of chartreuse pumps and when all else fails, they just work!

  17. I am finally coming around to being a fan of purple again after my husband insisted on painting our bedroom lavender. I was completely resistant at first, but the color has really grown on me! I can't believe that there was a time that I didn't like it!

    My favorite swatch is aubergine colored crepe in the top right corner! And the double knit in the center. Yum!

  18. I love the double knit! I think it would be perfect for your coloring. I like that you're thinking about your version of neutral too. LBD means blue to me--I hate black, and though I stand in defiance against many decades of fashion, I refuse to wear it. So if purple is your neutral, more power to you!

    I too am an enormous fan of 3/4 sleeves. If it wasn't so cold in the winter at times, I'd never wear long sleeves...and actually, I can't cook in long sleeves anyhow, so toss it all, maybe I should just wear scarves when I'm cold and proudly bare my lower arms!

  19. Definitely get whatever sets off your coloring! Love the purple contenders, but also the more periwinkle blue.

    Don't know how "seasonal" you want this dress to be? If you're thinking of more of a spring/early summer dress, going with a medium hue vs the deepies could make for a better transition piece.

    My neutral is aqua --light to deep. Looks great with browns, reds, greys, tans etc and (IIDSSM) amazing on me.

  20. When I choose fabric, it's based on how it feels in my hand, how well it blends into the rest of my wardrobe, if it suits the project, and last but not least, if I can't live without it. Sometimes I know what pattern I'm using, but most of the time it's fabric lust!

    Purple is a wonderful neutral in any wardrobe. I have a beautiful coat that goes with everything because of it's dark rich shade.

    3/4 sleeves are a must for me for convenience alone. Long sleeves just seem to be in the way even if they are pushed up.

    It's great that you have access to samples for immediate gratification for your projects. You are so lucky to be where you are. Those of us in the sticks have to wait for the snail mail to arrive or deal with the limited selection at the local fabric shop.

    I can't wait to see your progress with this background dress. The VoNBBS challenge is why I started reading this blog and why I started sewing vintage. Thanks for the inspiration.


  21. I love what you said about your kinds of neutrals. My wardrobe has the same concept, and it works for me because the basics all suit my coloring, and I can accessorize and play with texture and silhouette as much or as little as I want to and know the end result will pretty much always be fab.

    I'm also a huge fan of the 3/4 sleeves. I find they elongate my arms and are perfect for gadding about in and out of cars, in and out of stores, in all kinds of weather. Not bad either, as someone else mentioned, for showing off a bit of wrist bling ;)

    Love the final color choice!

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. I love the purple double knit, but in my opinion, it isn't a neutral. A colour that suits you certainly belongs in your wardrobe, but a neutral is a colour that you could wear everyday and that you could even wear head to toe. My go to neutrals are black, white and tan, which I love to combine with splashes of colour (colours that suit me, such as coral, turquoise, purple, plum, all shades of green). I think you could wear black everyday and never look the same, depending on the style of garments you choose and how you accessorize them. If you wore purple or plum everyday, it would be too monotone. Green is a colour that looks great with my skintone and haircolour, but if I wore it head to toe, I would look like an elf!

  24. That last one is indeed a fantastic color. I love a good plum or aubergine. It really does go with almost any other color.

  25. This is my favorite pattern of the bunch here. I've even been looking for it since I saw it here. It's my MOST favorite. I LOVE it. I think the knit will be perfect, because I think that you want a little something that clings to your body a bit. Oh that neckline scarf thing is to DIE for. I think the 3/4 sleeves will look heavenly, right to the elbow. I don't know about you, but I would taper that skirt in too. I just don't love that a-line look. Show off all those curves girl!

  26. I think the buttonholes are to attach the various neckwear shown on the pattern envelope. Are they in the pattern?

    How about a "conservative" purple with patterned ruffles, scarves, etc. made from the pattern. The Background refers to dressing it up with the various "attachments" for lack of a better word!

  27. Hi, I love the purple, but am also really excited to see what you will accessorise it with - the purple will be a fabulous background - do you know yet what you will put with it?

    As for 3/4 sleeves, I love them so much that my 3 year old is always pushing up her full length sleeves, to look like Mummy's.

  28. Lurve the purple...it can definitely be a background colour! I wasn't sure on the dress when it looked a little pencil-shaped, but the A-line certainly appeals! :D

  29. LOVE the purple double knit - You will be stunning! I can't wait to see it!

  30. I love the last swatch! It's neutral without being colorless. It fits the attitude of the dress.

  31. I had never thought of purple as a neutral until recently and my mind has gone wild with purple "what ifs". I just got a new pair of glasses that are Purple (OK, they're really sorta mauve but the color is listed purple on the description) and I was a bit hesitant to get them thought I liked everything else about them. I've suddenly realized that there is nothing they don't match or blend with quite nicely. I've been much too dependent on black, navy and tan as neutrals and my conservative nature (which sometimes drives me batty) and my closet show it. Hooray for purple! I love the choice. It updates the pattern to today's choice of fabrics but still has that vintage pizazz. Great choice.


  32. Deep purple is the color I go for when in doubt, definitely. It is not quite a neutral, but a color that blends well with many others. Black always works, grey, navy, many greens, blues and tones of reds, etc. I think you will enjoy a double knit, has a firmer feel and stays put when you sew it, but you have a softer feel. I recently made a dress with a 6 gore flared skirt and loved how it moved. I have one cut out of rayon double knit for the top and a lightweight woven for the skirt.

  33. Thank you Ladies for your lights on double-knit (I come to realize that my sewing vocabulary expands faster in English than in French...)!


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

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake