Sunday, 21 February 2021

Stuck in the middle

Sometimes, a project just fights you every inch of the way. The other day the Gentleman Caller asked how I was getting on with, "The dress you've got to finish by the end of March", i.e. the first of the Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community quarterly challenges. I had to shamefacedly admit that I haven't even started it yet, because I'm bogged down in something else.

This was meant to be a 'quick and easy' make - when will I ever learn that this assumption is a recipe for disaster? I've made up the pattern, Vogue 9546, before. It just needed a few alterations to fix a couple of fit issues and then, in theory, I'd have it made in no time.

Vogue 9546, from 1942

The dress consists of three parts: a blouse, a skirt, and a midsection. Each is constructed separately, and then the midsection is laid over the other two and secured with lapped seams. There is a side opening for either a zip or a placket fastening.

The diagram shows the midsection clearly

It is the midsection which is causing all the problems. Not for the first time, the issue comes down to my fabric choices. I quickly realized that the silky red fabric I wanted to use, while perfectly fine for the skirt, was far too flimsy to work for the midsection on its own. The solution was to flat line it. Fortunately, I still had some of the cotton I'd used to line Vogue 5215 left over, and it was ideal for this as well. (Once we can travel again, a day trip to Shrewsbury is needed, to get some more of this excellent fabric from Watson and Thornton.)

Usually flat lining involves cutting out pieces exactly the same shape as the sections to be lined. However, if I did this, it would mean that there would be at least five layers of fabric (two cotton, two outer fabric, one of blouse/skirt) in the lapped seams, and many more in the front points. I worried that this would be too bulky, so decided to omit the top and bottom seam allowances.

Flat lining the seams, but not the top and bottom edges

I sewed the midsection fronts together, the backs together, and the left side seam (I always put the opening in the right side seam, because I'm left-handed). Then I folded the outer fabric over the top and bottom edges, and tacked it in place.

The completed midsection, from the back

Next I sewed the midsection onto the blouse. The lovely Ms 1940 McCall, who (unsurprisingly) makes a lot of 1940s patterns, has recently posted a video about using an open toe foot as a guide for sewing lapped seams straight. I followed this fabulous piece of advice, and it worked like a charm – thanks Debi!

The blouse attached - it was all going so well at this point!

Unfortunately, sewing the midsection to the skirt didn't go so smoothly. I don’t know what the problem was; if it was the convex rather than the concave curve, or the fact that I had tacked this edge last and didn't want to pull the outer fabric too tight, but the lapped seam failed to catch the cotton lining most of the way round. When I held the dress up, this quickly demonstrated exactly why the midsection needed flat lining to provide the strength and stability to support the skirt!

I spent some time considering how to fix this. I also spent some time considering the possibility that this dress just didn't want to be made, and I should cut my losses and bin it. In the end, I decided to try adding a second row of stitching to the bottom seam. My machine has an option to sew with the needle pushed to the left, and for the first row I had done this with the fold resting against the left 'prong' of the foot. After some experiments on scraps, I opted for the same arrangement, but with the fold resting against the right 'prong' for the second row. Then, of course, I had to repeat the process on the top seam with the blouse section.

Sewing the second row

The end result would not have looked remotely so neat if I had tried to do it freehand, indeed I'm pretty sure that it would have ended up in the bin!

Impressively parallel rows of stitching

After all of this work and changes of plan, I’m currently not exactly feeling the love for this project. However, I think (hope) that I'm on the home stretch now, and with any luck there will be a completed dress to show next week.


  1. I can’t wait to see the finished dress on you! The sewing is neat, and it appears that you were able to gather/attach the skirt in a manner that looks to be identical on either side of center. I also love the fabric colors/pattern you selected. As I said, I can’t wait to see it all finished!

    1. Thank you!I must admit that I don't usually tack/baste my sewing much, preferring heaving pinning instead, but a lot of tacking went into this one.