I feel in love with 1950’s fashion as a child. I saw a photo of an actress, I think it was Grace Kelly (but as I was 8 I can’t really remember that well) in a beautiful dress, with a very full skirt there was lace as well and so I was sold vintage fashion.
In my early twenties I fell in love with classic costumes of Mad Men celebrating the female body. Considering I’m short but curvy current fashion trends of the time (size zero, and anything that called for a lack of a bra) look ridiculous. I spent a while hiding (and if I’m honest I still do at times) my curvy figure. I’d always dreamed of wearing a dress I could twirl in. The classic vintage party dress but the only ones I found where either, too big, too small or just looked ridiculous on my petite and curvy frame.
As I’m new to sewing world I’d looked at commercial retro patterns but the levels of complexity scared me off them. So one evening while browsing the internet and Instagram I came across the perfect dress; Sew Over It’s Betty Dress. I can’t remember one whose account I first spotted but whoever you are I owe you huge thank you (though it was also a massive time vacuum as I spent literal hours looks at different photos and blow posts but you can’t win them all) As soon as I saw its fit and flare style I was sold, and after reading a lot of information I was convinced I could tackle it with my newbie sewing skills. Betty features a beautiful fitted bodice and a full circle skirt, just made for twirling in, plus the v neck back was just sexy enough with detracting from the overall style. It would be ideal for my 1950’s themed 30 birthday morning tea.
I spent a long time considering what fabric to use, I initially considered polka dots but then I found this beautiful cotton sateen in spotlight. It’s got a white background with a dark floral blue over lay. It is so soft and has just the right amount of shine plus it holds its own weight well. Plus after the nightmare of working with rayon, cotton and sewing with this was an absolute dream.
The SOI Betty Dress is stated as an intermediate pattern but the website does state it can be tackled by a “confident beginner”. After reading many other positive blog posts I was determined to make it in time; this was a very flawed plan. I wish I could tell you dear readers that this was the only mistake I made but it was merely the start.
Now while the instructions where brilliant I found cutting this pattern out off the dark tracing paper quite hard. I use my wood dining table to cut out dresses and considering the dark nature of the paper I couldn’t see any details. To fix this i place a couple of plan piece of paper tapped together under the pattern paper. This made tracing off so much easier that I was annoyed at myself for not doing it sooner. You can see this genius idea (if I do say so myself) in the middle of this photo on the right just below my blue paper scissors.
After measuring myself I decided to go with size 14 as I was between sizes and I lack the technical ability to do any major adjustments yet. To put this into context I usually an Australian size 10, and my Bettine Dress was a size 5. This meant that the top needed to be taken in considerably but I didn’t notice this till I was almost finished constructing the dress, literally all I had left was to hem the skirt. I was so angry at myself that I didn’t touch it for several days.
I relied heavily on the Sew Over It Betty Dress sew along, which was an amazing resource throughout, especially when it came to the under-stitching which I’d never done before and which was utterly perfect.
The dress also requires an invisible zip. Now I’ve inserted zips before but not into clothing. It was also the first invisible zip I’d ever done. Now I don’t have an invisible zip foot, and sadly every store in Geelong was out of stock of the awkward type my machine requires so I (oh so naively) decided to just use my regular zipper foot and go really slowly. The first zip I brought I ended up melting with my iron, so after buying zip number 2 I tried again. It was far from perfect and as soon as I get an invisible zip foot I will unpick it and redo it, but it’s in the dress and it functions and I’ll have a cardigan on anyway. After a meltdown as it was 2 days before my birthday I very nearly gave up. See the issues in the photos below.
Thankfully my mum was staying with me anyway as I had medical appointments they day before my birthday. Now my mum sewed a lot in her younger days but by her own admission it’s been decades since she sewed anything. Anyway she helped me pin in two additional darts in the back, which helped take the dress in by around 5 inches. Mum also helped with trimming and pinning the hem, again I took about 5 inches off. I drastically underestimated how long it would take to hem a circle skirt. By the end of it I was swearing I would never make another circle skirt in my life, so let’s see how long that lasts.
Despite all the issues I had; the majority (okay all) of which were my fault, I’m so so so proud of this dress. Even with the non-invisible invisible zip. I added a hook and eye closure as the zip was a disaster but I’m so happy with how this turned out. I got so many compliments on this dress and there is such a joy in saying “thanks, I made it myself”. I also stupidly didn’t get any proper photos of me in the dress on the day so here are some on Suzy.
Pattern: Sew Over It Betty Dress
Size: I’m made a size 14 but could have made a 10 or a 12 due to the top being way too big
Fabric: Cotton sateen, which was wonderful to sew with, from Spotlight
Thread: Guttermann polyester all-purpose thread in Colour 111
Sewing Time: around 9 hours all up. I struggled with making the straps, hemming took ages and I had to add 2 extra darts.
Difficulty: advanced beginner
Fit: Great once I added 2 extra back darts, and took a fair chunk off the hem.
Remake?: I would love too but it will be awhile away. This is perfect party dress