I’m still working on my 80s coat, which is from this Vogue pattern.
The original is only half lined so I decided to line the whole thing, and picked a very contrasting lining: a bright pink satin when the shell fabric is green (I had it in stash; in fact it was originally bought to use with the green coating fabric on a long abandoned project). But then I realised I’d need some more sober lining fabric for things like lining the patch pockets and the inside of the concealed button placket. And the green is proving impossible to match especially as in person fabric shopping isn’t happening at the moment. I have ended up with grey lining, again from the stash.
The first sewing job should have been the bound buttonholes. I’d never done these before and wondered how well they’d go in such a thick fabric. I was particularly concerned about what fabric to use for backing the hole as I don’t have anything that’s a good colour match to the shell fabric. After making some samples I found a bright green quilting cotton was the best because it pressed well enough that none of it was visible from the front, so the poor colour match didn’t matter.
I’ve finished the buttonholes and the front welt pocket, and finally started sewing the shell together. Feels like there’s a long way to go at the moment. My pile of fabric pieces still looks enormous. But I put what I’ve got on the dress form yesterday and the shape is amazing; it’s basically triangular. I may need even bigger shoulder pads than I thought.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m pretty sure it’s the dress from this magazine ad.
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.
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.
One of my Christmas presents was an unusual sewing pattern ‘book’ called Mappamodello. It contains patterns for very geometric styles developed by the designer Nanni Strada in the 70s. The dress above is her ‘Arab-Islamic Work Dress’. It’s the only one I’ve made up so far but I suspect there will be more in the future.
I’ve described the object as a book but once you unpack it what you actually have is two very large pieces of paper. One is the (huge) pattern sheet, and the other includes brief notes on the history of each of the styles and some photographs and technical drawings of the designs. The only thing resembling sewing instructions provided is the key on the pattern sheet. The pattern for the dress I’ve made up didn’t entirely match the photographs and diagrams, but I found the process of reconciling the differences enjoyable. Having said that I made a fairly major mistake with this one which I would have avoided if there had been a photograph or a diagram of the back view as well as the front. More on that in a moment.
The designs are all one size and entirely flat in the sense that there are no seams or darts. They work by wrapping around the body and fastening with ties. The size is adjusted by fastening the ties more or less tightly. Most of the styles are very fabric-efficient and they almost all include pockets. You can see some of the fitting ties on the Arab-Islamic work dress in the back view below. If you’re familiar with the Walkaway dress it’s a similar ‘apron’ style. I was a bit cynical about the ‘one size fits all’ claim and added a few inches of length to the pattern for insurance. It probably wasn’t needed but does give a nice deep hem.
This particular style is supposed to be wearable in two different ways, but this relies on making the back neckline identical to the front neckline so you can turn the dress around 90 degrees and stick your arms though the neckline slits, tying the top neckline slit ties over your shoulders. The original ‘sleeves’ undo at the underarm, and those pieces then wrap over your chest and back, and presumably tie at your sides. As you can see I didn’t make a slit on the back of the dress so I haven’t got anywhere to put one of my arms through when I turn the dress around. I don’t think I’ve lost too much as wearing it that way doesn’t look very comfortable in the model photo.
I think the style I have made up is one of the earliest in the series. There are several very similar dresses in the book and it’s interesting to compare the later ones with the earlier. The shape of the neckline and sleeves evolves, the ability to wear the dress in two ways is dropped, the pockets become more complicated, and some purely decorative features creep in. I suspect the later versions make slightly more practical garments! Mine shouldn’t be worn without leggings and a t-shirt underneath because of all the gaps.
The book doesn’t go into any detail about fabric choice. For one or two of the designs it mentions ‘glazed cotton’ or ‘lacquered cotton’ which sounds to me like crisp fabrics. Accordingly I made my dress up in a polycotton poplin on the grounds that it’s got a crisp hand and is cheap enough for an experiment, but I think something with a bit more drape would actually have been better. By the way you need wide fabric for this style – 150cm/60″ – which limits the choices. I couldn’t find wide poplin from any of my usual sources and ended up getting it from eBay. The dress is mostly one huge pattern piece nearly the whole width of the fabric and well over two metres long. It makes efficient use of fabric. I only had small scraps left over.
So does this pass the wearability test? I’m not sure. These photos were taken on a bitterly cold and windy day so you are not seeing the dress or me at their best. It does feel a bit like wearing an academic gown only not as warm. Despite the book’s claim that the styles work for all seasons I think this one is only for spring and early summer days.
This all sounds rather negative but I really enjoyed the process of working out how to make the dress up. I’d like to give some of the more sophisticated versions a try, using better fabric. I think there’s a great dress in here somewhere.
Can there be a more 1970s fabric than orange polyester suede? I found some on a trip to Goldhawk Road a couple of years ago and something possessed me to buy a couple of metres. Whatever plans I had for it then didn’t come to fruition and it’s been sitting in my stash ever since. The day finally came when the stash overflowed and the suede had to be matched with a pattern or else given away. But what pattern to choose?
I was vaguely inspired by the lines of the Louis Vuitton Fall 2014 collection: dresses with big pointy collars, front zip closures, and a-line skirts. Look 23 from the collection is a good example of the sort of thing. Unsurprisingly the most suitable pattern I could find with those features was a vintage one: Butterick 3108.
Pattern envelope pictures sometimes lie, but this one is a pretty accurate representation of the finished dress. The collar is just as large and pointy as I was hoping for. The skirt is nowhere near as short as the Louis Vuitton dresses, but as I’m hoping to wear this to cycle in that’s not a bad thing.
I added top-stitching on the princess seams for a bit of interest. I also made patch pockets. I’m not entirely happy with those. They have come out too close to the centre front despite my best efforts to choose a pleasing position.
Luckily I was able to get a copy of the pattern in my size so I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments to the beyond adding length. The main change I made was to redraw the top of the sleeve pattern piece to remove all the sleeve cap ease. I didn’t fancy my chances of setting in the original sleeve without wrinkles as the suede has no elasticity at all. I’m pleased with the fit on the body, but the sleeves are very restrictive. Whatever I did to the sleeve caps obviously wasn’t quite right! And now I look at the pictures it could do with a touch more width at the back hip.
I made a couple of other small changes to accommodate the unforgiving fabric. I pleated the sleeves into the cuffs instead of gathering them. And the hem is faced rather than turned up. The hem allowance on the original pattern is two inches and isn’t tapered at all so there would be a lot of extra length to ease in if you tried to turn it up. I doubt that would work well even in cotton or wool fabric, never mind unshrinkable polyester.
The zip is brown because the orange is impossible to match and brown continues the 70s theme. The neck and hem facings are finished with some brown satin bias binding I had left over from another project. Unfortunately I didn’t change thread from orange to brown when sewing the zip in and the orange stitching shows up a bit against the brown zip tape, but I did remember for the binding. Not that you can see the stitching in the pictures anyway so I doubt anyone will notice.
I’ve made the fabric sound awful but it does have some good points: it’s easy to sew, it’s machine washable, and it’s very warm to wear. I’ll be glad of the insulation when autumn arrives.
This dress fulfils two purposes: it should work for cycling and it uses up some stash fabric. I was getting bored of wearing jeans every other day, but I have very few dresses that are warm enough for winter and can be worn on a bike. This has long sleeves and a high neck so should keep the chill out.
The pattern is vintage, McCalls 3875 from 1973. I’ve had it a while – so long that I can’t remember where it came from although it was probably an Etsy shop. I love these 70s illustrated pattern envelopes. There’s something about the lovely clean lines and bright colours of the pictures that appeals to me; much more so than ones with photographs or more painterly illustrations.
This is a very simple style and extremely quick to sew. The only detail is that the bust shaping has been turned into gathers at the raglan sleeve seams. Not sure mine’s come out looking as gathered as the illustration.
Here’s a closer look. I was a bit dubious about the gathering originally – especially on the envelope’s maxi dress view where it’s paired with a ghastly floral print fabric – but now I have made the dress I very much like the effect. I think it needs a solid colour though, and probably a fairly neutral one. I’ve gone for navy blue because that’s what I had in stash of the right weight and hand. The fabric is a very drapey viscose doubleknit which was described as ‘crepe jersey’. It certainly has that matte, slightly textured, look of crepe on the right side. It came from Minerva Crafts.
I added side seam pockets to the dress. These have not been entirely successful. The jersey is not sufficiently stable to support them so they tend to gape. I took quite a few precautions: interfacing along the side seam lines, cutting the front pocket bag out of lining fabric to reduce bulk, and eventually adding clear elastic to the side seam, but they aren’t great. It doesn’t help that I put them in too low and had to rip them out again and reposition. The jersey hates being unpicked at the best of times and I’d already overlocked things, so this made a big mess and I lost a bit of seam allowance here and there which I think has contributed to the gaping.
The other alteration I did was to make a facing to finish the neck. The original pattern has an extra-wide allowance that you turn over and tack down, but I was worried it might be too floppy. My facing is interfaced with some light weight fusible. It turned out that this was a good thing; when I measured the pattern to check the length of the facing pieces I realised that the neckline is much wider than the pattern illustration shows. I took all the seams around the neck other than the CB seam in by 1cm (ie sewed them 0.5cm deeper) to get the neck to look the way it does.
The back view is intensely plain. I’m proud of my invisible zip though.
The hem is a bit limp; I probably should have interfaced it. And as always with 70s patterns I had to hack off quite a few inches to get the hem to the length I’d intended. The original pattern came to well below the knee. It didn’t look bad at that length but this is better.
I think I’d make this again if I could work out what to do about the pockets. It’s possible they’d work better if I’d placed them correctly first time, or at least not damaged the fabric when moving them. The style needs a drapey and stretchy fabric so I can’t see welt pockets or patch pockets working any better than side seam pockets. And not having pockets isn’t an option. If anyone has any bright ideas, do let me know. I like the dress despite the flaw though.
It seems like a long time since I made this dress. I normally photograph new makes right away, but this one’s been sitting around for a few weeks while I’ve been unwell. Things are getting better now so I have slapped some makeup on and got photos of it at last.
The pattern is Simplicity 5320, a 1972 ‘jiffy’ design. I was drawn to the raglan sleeves and high collar. The fabric’s boiled wool jersey from Truro Fabrics in a shade called foxglove. Right now the fabric is still available here.
This whole project was a bit of an experiment in colour and shape. I normally choose styles with a defined waist, which this certainly hasn’t got, and I was also dubious about the flared sleeves. Where would I store the pile of tissues that I normally keep tucked into my sleeves? Finally there was the colour. I never wear pink. I bought this fabric on whim after looking at colour analysis websites; those ones that try to divide people into twelve or sixteen categories based on seasons and assign a palette of flattering colours to each. I still don’t know what my season is but it made me think I might be able to wear some colours I’d previously avoided.
I got round the sleeve problem by adding inseam pockets. The pink fabric is very thick so I made the pocket bags in black polycotton, which means they show a little more than I’d like. I think the pink works, although it helps that my dye job has faded from its usual shade of red. The collar is great but it needs a lot of interfacing to keep its shape, which wasn’t mentioned in the instructions. And I had to take five inches off the length of the skirt. The short view was below the knee on me and I’m very tall.
Here’s the back. There’s an invisible zip which probably isn’t needed. My fabric doesn’t have a lot of stretch so I didn’t want to risk skipping it.
I’ve been surprised to find myself reaching for this dress a lot since I made it. It’s very comfortable to wear but slightly smarter than jeans. It’s an easy make too, especially if you don’t put in the zip. Definitely recommended.
After I made my Death Star shirt dress I found I couldn’t stop at one. They’re so practical for work. This time I used a vintage pattern, Simplicity 6270. I made the view in stripes on the envelope: long sleeves, shirt collar, and worn with a leather belt rather than a self-fabric one.
I swear I didn’t plan to make it in the same grey as the left hand picture on the envelope. But I had some grey stretch cotton poplin that was perfect for a shirtdress and I’m trying to reduce the stash a bit. So here it is.
Unlike the Burda pattern I used for the previous dress this one has proper cuffs! They were quite a faff to make but worth it.
Binding the slashes in the sleeves was less fiddly than I expected.
I really like the 70s collar but if I was making this again I think I’d make a two piece collar. The one in the pattern has the collar stand as part of the main collar piece and it took a lot of pressing to make it sit right. This photo was taken just after I attached the collar; the buttonholes haven’t been made yet.
Here’s the back view. I shortened the skirt by a good three inches. Vintage patterns have such low hemlines and they look terrible on me!
You can just about see one of the side seam pockets in this photo. They weren’t in the original pattern, but I’m trying to make the effort to add pockets to patterns where I can. I’m always glad I’ve done it after the event, even though it seems like a lot of extra work at the time.
So there it is. Next up will be the coat project I hope!