Hindsight is 20/20: Vogue 1558

If I ever need a quick fancy dress costume I think I’m sorted; I’ll just wear this dress, borrow a toy lightsaber from my son, and say I’m Princess Leia.

This is the original pattern: Vogue 1558. It’s a Rachel Comey design from maybe 2018. Surprisingly it seems to be out of print already. I think I bought it when it was first released, but never got around to making it up because it’s difficult to find the right fabric for. It needs a lightweight but relatively stable knit. Anything too heavyweight would make the pleats at the waist very bulky, but the wide skirt needs a lot of support so too much stretch is to be avoided.

The original Rachel Comey dress is made from silk jersey, which was never going to be an option. I decided on ‘silk touch’ poly lycra from Tissu Fabrics. It’s stretchier than I’d like, but I attempted to compensate by not lengthening the bodice pieces by as much as I normally would. It’s also inexpensive so I bought some extra to make underlayers for opacity: a basic crew necked t shirt and an underskirt. I had a clever idea I wanted to try out with the underskirt: I put side seam pockets into it and left slits in the dress side seam to make them accessible. That way the dress has the benefit of pockets without all the pulling you normally get from pockets in a lightweight knit.

Unfortunately I underestimated the stretch and everything ended up much too long. I needn’t have lengthened the bodice at all. The pocket idea worked, but as I can only just reach the bottom of them they are not exactly practical.

I did manage a good invisible zip insertion, which in this difficult fabric is a minor miracle. Yes the pleats aren’t quite symmetrical.

It’s not just the stretch though. The whole style is wrong for me. This dress is soft and pretty whereas I feel more comfortable in something sharper edged. I thought the strong vertical lines of the pleats and the high neckline would make it work for me, but the midi length and bishop sleeves are what is coming through. I could chop off some length – it’s not currently hemmed – but I’m not sure that would save it and anyway it’s winter here right now. So I think I’m chalking this one up to experience and moving swiftly on.

Back to the 80s: Vintage Vogue 1308 Claude Montana dress

One thing that always strikes me when I look at fashion images from the early 80s is how warm those power dressing ladies must have been. They’re invariably wrapped in several layers, often of heavy wool, and with gloves and hats on top. Perfect for a UK winter.

This dress is very much part of that sort of look. It’s from a vintage Vogue Claude Montana pattern, number 1308. My copy came off eBay. This one comes up fairly often and inexpensively second hand so I imagine it sold well when it was in print. There’s no date on it, but comparing with the numbers and dates of Vogue patterns recorded in COPA suggests it is from 1983. I haven’t been able to find an image of the exact garment on the catwalk, unfortunately, although YouTube videos of Montana collections from 1983 have some similar styles.

The pattern has three pieces: the dress, a jacket, and a stole (the latter winning the award for the most unnecessary pattern piece ever – a giant rectangle with no markings that must have taken up an entire sheet of pattern tissue). The dress has huge 80s shoulder pads and some shaped topstitching detail around the neck and shoulders which is echoed in the jacket. But the main feature is the opening bands down the back and arms.

You’re supposed to use snaps as the band closures, which matches what I’ve seen in a lot of contemporary fashion images, but Vogue suggests buttons as an alternative and I agree – I’d be terrified of the snaps coming undone down the back. I was surprised that 1.5cm buttons were suggested which seem rather on the small side for the width of the band. Presumably that matches the size of the snaps on the original garment. My buttons are 2cm which I think looks better.

I had a hard time deciding on fabric for this. The envelope says ‘wool jersey, wool double knit, challis, lightweight crepe and raw silk’ but it’s not stated which of the pieces each fabric suggestion is for. Clearly the fabric for the dress needs to be heavy enough to support the closures so I went with the double knit option, although mine is a poly-viscose-elastane mix from Minerva rather than wool. It comes in a huge range of colours. This one is ‘ochre’ and I’m really enjoying having a change from neutrals.

This was a fairly easy sew although I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. They would have you turn under a tiny (6mm) hem on all the facings and then topstitch exactly along that line to secure the facing. This was not at all easy in a thick and bouncy ponte knit, so after the first few attempts I gave up and left the remaining facing edges flat and unfinished before topstitching. In a fraying fabric I’d have overlocked them, or I suppose they could be bound for a really fancy finish.

Those big shoulders aren’t just shoulder pads alone. There’s an extra crescent shaped stiffening layer inside the dress at the shoulder edge to help produce that very wide and rounded shape. This sort of detail is one of the things I love about Vogue patterns. Sadly I wasn’t able to track down a copy of the recommended vintage pattern for making authentic 80s shoulder pads, so I had to buy my pads from eBay and they aren’t quite the right shape or size.

I had a hard time getting the top of the back button band to sit nicely when worn. It looked fine on my dress form, but on me the outer corner of the top band kept curling outwards. The closures aren’t needed for function so I tacked it down.

I’ve only made the dress from the pattern, but my Burda 105 2/2021 jacket is a similar style to the Montana jacket and looks good with my dress. It also provides much needed pockets to the outfit.

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve worn this dress considering it was a bit of a stunt project. It’s so roomy I can get a jumper under it which has been great for keeping warm. Forget the nineties revival, I’m sticking with the eighties.

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

Burda 110 05/2008

Finally some modelled photos of Burda 110 05/2008, part of my current wardrobe sewing plan. The weather’s turned cooler so while I’d originally intended to wear it on its own, I’ve had to put the pleather leggings from the same plan and a t shirt underneath. And as we went to a park on the other side of town to take the photos there are creases and the pockets are laden down with hand sanitizer and the like. So this is definitely a realistic set of photos!

Here’s the line art. Note the distance between the bottom of the pockets and the hem; this is meant to be a very short dress.

Burda 110 05/2008 line art, burdastyle.ru

And compare with my version, which has come out a lot longer. I think the explanation might be that hem allowance was already included on the pattern pieces and then I added it again. Normally you have to add both seam and hem allowance to Burda magazine patterns, but sometimes when there is a feature at the hem like the drawstring casing here, or a turn up, the hem allowance (but not the seam allowance) is already included. I have checked the instructions and it doesn’t say it’s included, but every other version I’ve seen of this one is a lot shorter than mine. I’m not sure the longer length of mine is the best proportion on me, but it does make it wearable with bare legs.

For once Burda have come up with a pattern with an interesting side and back view. Those cargo pockets can hold a lot of stuff. I was a bit worried I’d made permanent shiny iron marks on the pocket corners while trying to press them but the fabric recovered very well after a steam. It’s Merchant and Mills 8oz sanded twill in Aubin grey. It’s a beautiful fabric: it has a very soft hand but is also sturdy. I’d definitely use it again. Burda’s fabric recommendation for this one is poplin which seems a bit on the lightweight side to me.

The belt loops held on with snaps look good but the back ones do occasionally unsnap themselves when getting out of a car.

I’m pleased with the collar and front zip. It was a lot of effort. Overall I’m not sure the style works for me though; the whole thing seems like it needs to be a bit crisper. Maybe I should have used poplin!

Thanks to my husband for patiently taking the photos as always.

Another oddity with Burda 110 5/2008

I’ve finally finished Burda 110 5/2008, a biker style mini dress with lots of fiddly details and hardware.

Burda’s famously terse instructions all worked out in the end and I’m pleased with the result, but there’s one feature I don’t understand. Here are the lower pockets, which are bellows style, so there’s a pleat strip between the front of the pocket and the dress body to allow expansion room. (Burda calls them poacher’s pockets but I don’t think I’ll be fitting any stolen rabbits into these.)

They have rivets on the bottom corners. Rivets are normally placed to reinforce areas of stress, but I’m not sure I’ve got these right. Burda’s instructions say to ‘keep the pleat piece free’ while attaching, and in the technical drawing they definitely don’t look like they are meant to go through the body of the dress.

Burda 110 5/2008 line art, Burdastyle.ru

So I’ve just put mine through the pocket front where they achieve nothing but decoration. I couldn’t even catch the seam allowances down with the rivet on most of them because I added the rivets after sewing the pockets to the dress. Had I realised earlier that they don’t go through the dress front or near the attachment seam I could have done them before, which would have been much easier.

So does anyone know how these are meant to work? I’m perfectly happy with the finished dress, and the pockets are never going to be asked to hold anything heavier than a phone, but I’m curious.

Burda 101 2/2021

This dress is a bit of a departure from usual for me. I don’t often wear colour, never mind prints. I’d originally been planning to make Burda 101 2/2021 in a very luxurious grey Tencel twill as part of my wardrobe sewing plan, but then I read some slightly worrying reviews of the pattern. Here’s the line art: what it doesn’t show is that you’re meant to cut the bodice on the bias, which combined with the weight of the long skirt means the bodice tends to grow.

Burda 101 2/2021 line art, burdastyle.ru

I didn’t want to risk my expensive fabric on a possibly dud pattern. I also couldn’t see any good reason for the bodice to be on the bias in the first place. The original Burda version is made in a horizontal stripe which produces a nice effect with the bias grain, but in a plain I thought it would work perfectly well cut straight. Time for an experiment.

Enter this mystery print fabric which has been in my stash for years. I got it on Goldhawk Road in London. It’s a lightweight twill and at the time I thought it was polyester based on the price. I did a burn test when I pulled it out for this project, and was amazed to find it’s most likely silk – certainly not polyester anyway. But I have never found a project for it and it seemed like a good choice for this one because there aren’t many seamlines to break up the print.

So I traced the pattern off and rotated the grain line on the bodice pieces. I also eliminated the centre back seam which isn’t needed if you’re cutting on the straight grain, and would interrupt the print. I completely missed that the front facing is meant to be cut on the fold and added a seam allowance to that. I made my usual fitting adjustment of lengthening the bodice. That was slightly tricky to do at the front because of the shape of the pattern pieces with the cut-on sleeves and the ties meant I couldn’t cut straight across and spread. I had to cut a step shape in the pattern piece instead, so the length got added below the cut-on sleeve at the outside edge and above the ties at centre front. And I added side seam pockets which are sewn into the waist seam at the top in an attempt to avoid sagging.

Cutting out was an ordeal. I did it single layer because of the print, which meant working on the floor. I should have stabilised the fabric with starch or gelatine because it wriggled about all over the place. Some of the cut pieces bore very little resemblance to the original pattern. And I completely messed up matching the print at the skirt side seams. I didn’t even try at the waist because the ties hide it there. But amazingly when I sewed it up it all fitted together. The print lines were useful for making sure things were on grain at the hem and waist seam.

I was really careful not to stretch out the neckline edges, but I still had to rip and resew the centre front intersection a couple of times to make it sit right. The bodice looks best slightly bloused over the ties, but the slippery fabric means it tends to slip down. I should have put some elastic in the waist seam but I didn’t have any handy.

I promise the hem isn’t as wonky as it looks, the bodice has just slipped down on one side. The sleeve bands tend to move about too: in most of the photos the right one has sneakily unfolded itself.

I do like the big block of print that ended up sitting on the upper back. The bow on the other hand just vanishes into the print.

I added a tie on the inside so I can attach the point of the v neck to my bra and avoid flashing people when I bend over. It’s a bias tube made from a scrap and caught in the stitching that attaches the facing to the centre front seam. You can also see my lazy overlocked seam finishes here. I’m forever seeing people on the Internet assert that overlocking is a sign of poor quality, but I’ve never had an overlock finished seam fray and fall apart in the wash yet.

So what’s the verdict? I like this dress and have worn it out of the house, but I won’t be making a version in the Tencel. Not because this is a terrible pattern, just a little fussy to wear. It needs plenty of ironing and the skirt isn’t a great length on me. Best kept for garden parties and summer weddings. Thanks as always to my husband for the photos.

Burda instructions and where to interface

I’m making the pattern below, a 2008 Burda, so it’s a pretty old one. I remember reading lots of online complaining about Burda’s instructions when I first discovered sewing blogs, but once I got good enough at sewing to tackle Burda magazine patterns at all, which would have been a year or two later, I found the instructions were minimal but usually adequate.

Burda 110 5/2008 line art, burdastyle.ru

And then I got my hands on some older Burda issues, back from when it was called Burda World of Fashion, and discovered what people had been complaining about. The older Burda patterns are much easier to trace than the modern ones because the same number of patterns are spread out over twice the number of sheets of paper, but the instructions are definitely worse; I think this particular set even has a minor mistake in that they tell you to attach part of the front band twice, in two different parts of the instructions. And while the current Burda instructions are terse but include every step (apart from finishing seam allowances) the old ones occasionally skip over things.

The pattern above has a lot of fiddly little details: wide belt carriers, shoulder tabs, pocket flaps, and some sort of decorative loop at the back neckline. I picked it in part because of this. Burda made their version in poplin which isn’t the sturdiest fabric for that sort of thing so interfacing is definitely required. And the instructions for interfacing are limited to some shading on the cutting layout to show where to stick the stuff:

Cutting diagram for Burda 110 5/2008

And that’s your lot; there is nothing in the text to remind you to actually apply it. Modern Burda always has a brief line at the start of the pattern instructions which mentions it.

Now if I was making this in poplin I think I’d be happy following the interfacing placement in the original diagram, but I’ve perhaps foolishly decided on something much heavier: an 8oz cotton twill. So do I follow the diagram or cut down on the interfacing? I definitely want it on the collar and zip bands, but I wonder if sticking it on the pocket flaps and tabs is just going to make them difficult to turn out and top stitch. Wish me luck.

Vogue 1376 vintage Montana dress modelled pictures

So here it is at last, my vintage 80s dress. It seems odd to think of 80s patterns as vintage, given I remember the decade quite well. But at the time I definitely didn’t appreciate fashion and had never heard of Claude Montana.

The pattern is Vogue 1376 from 1984. I’m almost certain the original designer dress is the one in this advert. I did consider constructing a blue cardboard triangle to put on my head but you’ll be pleased to hear sanity prevailed. My styling efforts are limited to 80s style stripy blusher.

This dress is all about the enormous shoulders. The bodice front and back are only joined together from the waist down in order to achieve that very triangular shape. Decency is maintained by side insets placed in the gap and topstitched in place. One of the insets is visible in this side view. What you can’t see here are the two shoulder pads each side required to support the shape.

Here’s a back view. I added quite a bit to the length. I always add 5cm to the bodice on Vogue but on this one I added another 3cm to the skirt. I’m very happy with where the hem has ended up. For once I’ve managed to hit the magic length which covers the knee but doesn’t make my legs look oddly proportioned. I’m wearing ridiculous heels here for photographic purposes but I think this would look OK with flats. I browsed through a lot of YouTube videos of Montana fashion shows while identifying this pattern, and was surprised by how low and practical many of the shoes were. Not how I remember 80s style. Is it just that heels got even higher later on? I remember fashion suddenly declaring that flats were OK after all at some time in the second half of the 90s, and how refreshing it was to be able to find shoes that were both attractive and practical.

There are a lot of details on the back: there’s a button closure, pleats, and a belt. On the original design the belt appears to be patent leather, but I stuck with self fabric and a lot of interfacing for mine. Incidentally the fabric is gaberchino from Empress Mills. I think this design needs something not too heavy, but with a bit of body to it.

The front has the amazing pocket flanges which echo the triangular shoulder shape and the overall outline. The whole thing is very thoughtfully designed.

Surprisingly it’s not all that close fitting, as you can see here. I made my usual size and I seem to have more ease than on the original. I don’t think I’d want it any tighter though.

I’m pleased with this, although who knows how much I’ll get to wear it in the near future. It was a lot of fun to make anyway.

Utterly impractical sewing

Remember this? It’s a old Vogue designer pattern I bought earlier in the year because it is everything I love about the 80s.

It hasn’t just been sitting in my pattern collection; I am actually making it up. It’s been quite a journey so far and it’s not done yet. But I have finally got it to the point where it looks like a dress, so I thought I’d post some progress pictures.

The pattern envelope does not lie. The shoulders are seriously wide. Consequently the waist looks tiny. It hasn’t got shoulder pads in yet either, so those shoulders are going to be even bigger when it’s done.

The hip pocket flaps form amazing sticky out fins when the dress is on a body or dress form. My other half said it reminded him of a 50s Cadillac. Underneath them are welt pockets.

The fabric is gaberchino. It needs to be something that is drapey enough for the pleats in the bodice back but has enough body to make the more structured details. I’ve used a lot of interfacing to beef it up in places.

Here’s a better view of the shoulder and neck. The pins are holding the armscye facing in place as I haven’t topstitched it yet.

And here is the back; there is a lot going on there. There are going to be buttons and button holes on the upper back bands and at the collar and the back half-belt. My dress form has a much shorter waist than I do so it won’t be quite so blousy on me.

I still need to add insets under the arms, do a ton of topstitching, put the shoulder pads in, and make all those buttonholes. Oh and hem it, too. There is loads of work in this and that’s without making any effort to make the insides look nice – the pattern doesn’t call for anything special there so it’s all overlocked seam allowances. It’s a wonderful pattern though; beautifully drafted and full of interesting details. It’s been a lot of fun to sew.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the end result is going to be less wearable than I’d originally thought, what with the high neck and the very narrow skirt. But it will be a spectacular dress for going out somewhere fancy in, if we ever get to do that again. And when I finish it I will do my best to get some good photos…I’d better look up some 80s makeup inspiration.

Wearability: sleeveless black dresses

Time for another review of how some of my projects have worn over the years. This time I’m looking at three different black dresses, all sleeveless.

The oldest is Vogue 1410, a Lynn Mizono design. I made it in 2014 and it’s still going strong. It’s a very clever pattern. The insides are finished beautifully with French seams and the hem is adjustable to four different lengths by way of buttonholes and buttons on the inside of the side seams. I added side seam pockets to my version but otherwise made it up as the pattern instructed, scorching my fingers pressing the tiny hems around the neck and armscyes.

Here’s the second shortest length. This is flattering but I find it is a bit too short for comfort most days. The shortest one is much too short to be wearable and the second longest doesn’t look good on me.

When I made this I didn’t expect I’d ever wear it at the longest length, but to my surprise I find this is the best of all. It reveals the lantern shape of the skirt and feels modern and architectural. But best of all it is easy to throw on, requiring no great thought about choice of footwear or matching with other pieces.

The dress has an elastic cord which pulls it in under the bust. When my son was small he found it soothing to play with, so wearing the dress now reminds me of him as a baby.

The black fabric is a little faded after six years; otherwise it’s in good condition. I’ll definitely remake this one when it finally falls to pieces. But I’m going to finish the edges with bias tape next time to save my fingers.

Next up is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. I’ve made this pattern many times, tweaking it in every iteration. This version is made from a dirt cheap mystery black scuba bought in the Birmingham Rag Market. It’s probably polyester with lycra.

It doesn’t show well in the photos but the pattern has lots of diagonal seamlines. This is a great pattern for colour blocking but I have preferred my solid versions. The scuba fabric is perfect for the style: thick enough to provide coverage but still with plenty of stretch. When I wear this I feel smart but still very comfortable. This version has become a staple for work days, especially in winter when I put a long sleeved black t-shirt and thick black tights under it.

I made the pattern again more recently in a grey ponte, slightly thinner than the scuba, and it’s not as good. The grey fabric is showing wear already. But the scuba is indestructible; a good thing because I think I’ll be wanting to wear the black dress for years to come.

The last dress of the three is the least successful. This is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. The pattern didn’t appeal to me on first release but then I read a few blogs where people raved about their versions. What sold me on it was the promise of an interesting shape that was still easy to wear. The bodice only attaches to the skirt at centre front and the rest floats free so it’s a summer-only dress.

I was very pleased with it when I finished it, but the weather turned just then and I didn’t get a chance to wear it until the following summer. And since then, for some reason, it has mostly stayed in the wardrobe. I think it’s a little too fussy for me. The bodice doesn’t stay in place particularly well, and the fabric is too warm to go with a sleeveless style. I normally like a garment with shoulder pads, but they don’t seem appropriate for the sort of hot sunny weather when I’d wear this.

I’m not sure what to do about this one. I probably should have made it out of linen and skipped the shoulder pads but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to part with it just yet so it will stay in the wardrobe a while longer while I try to come up with a way to wear it.

Ultimate 80s

Last week took a rather unexpected turn and I ended up first in A and E and then having surgery. I’m home now and feel a lot better – thank you NHS! And I bought a sewing pattern to cheer myself up so I thought I’d share it because this has got to be the ultimate 80s power dress. It’s Vogue 1376, I think from 1984. The design is by Claude Montana.

Vogue 1376 envelope photo

I’m pretty sure it’s the dress from this magazine ad.

Ad from Vogue (image from Pinterest)

I even found a YouTube video of the Montana 1984 spring/summer show with several models all wearing the same dress.

Here are the line drawings.

Vogue 1376 view A line drawing
Vogue 1376 view B line drawing

I love the pockets. They’re quite fancy welt pockets made using a clever technique that was new to me. The pocket bag is sewn on to the pocket opening, turned through, and then folded up and back to form the welt. There is no separate welt piece so it’s much less faff. And then that triangular flap gets sewn on top, hiding the beautiful welt. Or the not so beautiful welt if it goes wrong.

The pattern doesn’t have a photo of the dress back which is a shame as there’s a lot of interesting detail there. The video shows that the back belt is made of a different fabric which looks like leather. I think I’d stick to self fabric though.

The shoulder pads are immense. The pattern says 2.5cm thick. I think it would take two sets of modern ones to get that height. It amused me to see that at the time Vogue offered a shoulder pad pattern which the envelope suggests as an alternative to buying pre-made pads.

Although it’s obviously very much of its time I think there is a wearable dress in here. Just need to find the right fabric.