How to introduce Vintage elements to modern dressmaking patterns

1930's style

I posted this dress previously it is one of my favourites however many of the original patterns are long gone, and while pattern companies do sell ‘vintage’ patterns I have struggled to find patterns that incorporate elements that for me lift a garment out of the ordinary and into the fabulous.

Butterick B6168 Front Illustration

I saw this pattern on the Butterick website and thought it would make a great starting point to pay homage to the Vintage Dress.

Pattern adaptation Vintage Style

I think we appear to have lost our skills on how to enhance a figure, if you notice the gathering under the midriff section it is really adding bulk even if you have a flat tummy all that fabric would bulge out and is not flattering.  Scroll back up to the original dress and the use of pleats has added interest without bulking up at the front, a perfect hideaway for a little rounded tummy.

Butterick B6168 Technical drawing 1

I am big busted so I shall have to have excess fabric  in the bodice – I like the idea of the gathered smocking just above the midriff. If I choose to do this it might be easy simply to adapt the fabric allowance for pleats here and change it to a gathered section however, I am not sure how it would work with the cross over. Only time and my Toile will tell.

The final element I will change is the cap sleeve – I would like a full sleeve that finishes just above the elbow. Sleeve variations were around in the 1930s but I know that the full sleeve is a signature detail of Vintage style, so I want to incorporate it into my dress.

Proposed changes

I am not going to replicate the smocking on the upper bodice and sleeves or the yoke details of the vintage dress because I am busty and it would make the bodice rather fussy. I will see if I want to add the round embellishments when I have made the dress.

back soon …

Pattern Adjustment – increasing/decreasing the pattern at the hip / waist.

It is easy to add a few inches to a skirt or dress pattern – especially around the hip area. This pattern illustration is from the Simplicity Sewing book published in 1940! You can see by the right hand of the illustration the garment will wrinkle across the hip or waistline where the fabric is being stretched to fit.

Adding fabric for hips

As much as you might fear cutting into your pattern, this pattern adjustment will make the pattern work for your body shape – If you really struggle to get snipping with your scissors, you can always copy the pattern onto cross and dot paper – and keep the original.

So here is what you do.

Adding fabric for hips 1

2a pattern before adaptation

added seam allowance

2 b pattern after adaptation. Marked in section is filled with additional paper.

Cut down the front and back pieces from the hem to the neckline – then pivot the pattern apart into an inverted ‘v’. It helps if the top gap is small so that the pattern hinges.

Move the pieces apart far enough so that you have the extra space where needed along the hipline  (the dotted line on this pattern)-

Make sure your hip/waist measurement includes seam allowances and 1 cm for ease.

Fill in the gap with paper or discarded tissue from the pattern.

Because you have altered the patten within the pattern outline, the original design will flow correctly.

If you need to decrease the measurements, simply cross over the two edges you snipped with your scissors, by the amount you need to reduce the pattern by.

Simplicity Blogger Challenge – Pattern 1364

Simplicity Blogger Circle

I discovered Simplicity were hosting a Blogging Challenge about 4 weeks ago, feeling brave I thought I would enjoy the challenge. I liked the Vintage Category and thought this pattern would be the best choice.


I love the 1960’s its all about the cut and simple lines. This is the era that gave us the A Line skirt, which suits all body shapes. It is also the era of black and white, geometrics, using the new man made fibres developed in the 1950’s – silver and metallic fabrics were popular.

The pattern history tells us that the ‘young’ 70 million teenagers became the fashion leaders for the first time in history – influenced by the Beatles and the androgynous silhouette of twiggy came to the fore, which still influences fashion today. Simplicity introduced this pattern for the new Teenage Market, that could be made quickly as the jiffy term implied.  It consisted of three main pattern pieces with a belt option and arm facings.

To be honest I was a little worried about this pattern, I am no spring chicken! I am more Marylin Monroe than Twiggy, this pattern challenge should be how to fit a circle into a rectangle! 

Adjusting the bust

I am very busty, (G cup) with a small frame 34 and short 5’2.  I know from experience that the bust point needs lowering by around 4 cm. (I blame being over 40 and my daughter! ) I decided to alter the bust point straight away and then make the toile.

It is a simple process,

  1. Lay the patten across your body and mark your bust point, (your nipple!).
  2. You don’t want darts to finish at the bust point (it would be a little hello boys!) usually about 5cm 2inches below retains your modesty. 
  3. Cut the dart out then move it down so that it points to your bust point.
  4. Fill the space created with some of the excess tissue paper from the pattern.

It is surprising how this small step can make a huge difference to the fit of the garment.

The Toile


I have become quite adept at noticing small details on pattern envelopes.

The gathering shading at the base of this illustration indicated to me that this pattern was quite straight at the bottom. The View C in particular shows just how rectangular this style is.

Not good news if you are curvy! As you can see from the toile there is a huge gap at the bottom I had to open the seam in order to get the top over ‘Doris’.

I am an hourglass – I have noticed with age that my dimensions have changed – my bust has grown in proportion to my hips but I have a relatively small waist and a smaller than average back. I am also short waisted which means that my curves are rather extreme!

Adapting the pattern to create a more defined waist

side seam and dart adjustment

If I was to make this top without these adaptations I would end up looking at least four sizes bigger as it would finish at my hip line (the widest part of my body) and hide my small waist. I decided to cut the top at the waistline so I can tailor it more to my body shape.

You can see just how deep the side darts are and the large side seam allowance I need to alter the line of this top to enhance my shape rather than hide it.

These side darts really work beautifully – a wonderful find as I have been using waistline darts up to now.

By making these adaptations my top will now resemble views A and B, which is more flattering for my body shape.

Lowering the Neckline

the neckline

This style includes a boat neck which was a big feature of the 1960’s.

It was important to check that the front neckline would sit on my collarbone.

I had to lower the neck line by 10cm and draw a new line using my french curve on the pattern.

I have a full bust in contrast the top of my chest is quite small. In order to get a better fit I pinch out a tiny 0.5cm dart at the neck edge.

It helps the neckline to lay flat by removing excess fabric.

Simply cut the neckline towards the waist around 20cm and then overlap the edges.

If you have a broader chest then open up the edges to give more room.

Changing the back zip

Back seam

I am not a fan of back seams, not only are they difficult to do up by yourself, but it creates a pattern match challenge which breaks up the back of the garment.

I decided to adapt this top pattern and use a side invisible zip. Since I had a lot of excess fabric at the sides anyway, I would not need to add any more to the seam allowance.

I removed the seam allowances along the centre back of the pattern.

I also pinched out another small overlap to compensate for my small back in the same way I had adapted the neckline.

The design has dropped sleeves so there was no need to adjust the shoulder line, but I decided to add my own cropped short sleeve rather than the three quarter length sleeve of the pattern.I always add the sleeves before the side seams – the garment can be opened out, it gives you much more space to work with.

Fabric – pattern flow

back bodice

I chose a black and white fabric in homage to the 1960’s, but went for flowers rather than geometrics.

 If I had retained the zip the large flower repeat would have used up a lot of fabric. You can see the back panel with the large flower flowing across the back nicely without the zip to interrupt it – the pattern design flows around the body working upwards from the waist and ending near the shoulder blade.

The fit works well across the shoulders and hugs the waist, which will emphasis the narrowest part of my body, (my best feature).

Side darts and bodice fitting

side dart

I am really loving the side darts! They work much better for me as they are longer than the waist darts I have used before.

The bodice is fitting so well, the easy pattern shapes have made adaptations simple!

I decided to use the pattern as a bodice for a skater style dress by adding a circular skirt. The advantage of this style is that it has no gathering at the waistline and I positioned it so that the fullness appears at the sides so that my little tummy is hidden away!

The fabric is a synthetic crepe that flows nicely and works well with a circular pattern. It has a lovely sheen with none of the difficulties of slippery fabric!

Checking the neckline


I have a short neck, so tend to avoid boat necks if possible as they sit on my adams apple rather than the collarbone!

The neckline now sits just below my collarbone but it has altered the boat neckline from a straight line into a curve.

Peter Pan – Yes or No?


I did contemplate adding a peter pan collar which was also a feature of the 1950’s

It created a huge collar because of the broad boat neck – I narrowed the collar to sit on the shoulder edge, but it was altering the clean lines of the pattern.

In the end I decided against it – leaving the neckline simple in line with the ethos of the 1960s lack of ‘trim and embellishment’, to quote from the fashion history.

The toille fabric is an old sheet I bought from a charity shop, they are always sold at a reasonable price – this double bed sheet was only £4! It cuts down costs and makes good use of items that might go to landfill as well as helping charities! I call that a win win situation!

Rolling along the edge

neck line with bias bound edge

I used rolled hem on my overlocker to create a nice neck edge and finished with black satin bias binding rather than facing.

You can get a very crisp finish without the need of top stitching by using wundaweb hemming tape between the neck edge and the binding.

Once in place, a few hand stitches will be enough to keep it in place permanently.

Invisible Zip Insertion to the side seam

size seam invisible zip

The invisible zip is hidden away – with just the tag poking out under the arm.

I pin the bodice edge to the zip first and then work my way upwards.

I make a first line of stitching using a normal zip foot along the edges and down the seams.

Then I stitch a closer edge using the invisible zipper foot.

I find it avoids the difficulty in joining the bottom of the zip with the seam – I usually end up with a gap. This method seems to create a continuous seam and doesn’t alter the line of the garment.

Inserting a Zip Facing

facing for invisible zip

I created facing to prevent the nylon zip scratching me when I am wearing the dress.

I intend to go dancing in this dress so need lots of movement so a little bit of cushioning is a luxury I can add easily.

It is just a doubled up rectangle of fabric, overlocked the raw edges then  secured long side to the free edge of the zip.

Hemming Circular Skirts

rolled hem

My overlocker has a lovely rolled hem setting that is perfect for circular skirts.

They need a very small hem due to the shape, as soon as you turn up even a small section, the top edge of the hem is smaller than the skirt you try and attach it to. A rolled hem offers a great solution and the fabric is light enough so that the edge is not heavy.

I like the hem to finish at the knee and Doris has a lovely device for trimming off hems! It looks like a metal bar that slides up or down. Given that I have a bit of a tummy it sometimes raises the hem at the front slightly, so I try and do this step right at the end.

So here is the finished dress!

Simplicity Pattern Challenge 1364

What I learned from this Challenge

Simplicity Pattern Challenge 1364

What fun this challenge has turned out to be! You could call it how to turn a rectangle into a circle!

The pattern was a giveaway from Simplicity for their challenge, which was really kind of them!

I found this pattern very easy to use and adapt. I particularly like the side darts – and will most likely use them in other bodice blocks.

I have a wonderful bodice pattern that works beautifully with my body shape and makes me feel good.

Which is what sewing is all about!