Somebody Else’s Handmade Dress

A dress of semi-mysterious origin.

Ok, how to explain the provenance of this dress? My crafty sister-in-law (techically my brother-in-law’s wife), has, astonishingly, both a mother and a daughter. Long and long ago, her mother was a seamstress, and at some point ended up with a store of (now) vintage dresses. A year or two back, she offered one of these to my crafty sister-in-law’s daughter for her grade 8 graduation. She altered the dress quite a bit, in particular removing the sleeves and shortening it, but in the end, said ungrateful child didn’t like it (at least partly because it’s quite tight in the bust on her,* but also because her grandmother wouldn’t shorten the hem any further) and wore a modern, storebought dress instead. On my most recent visit Home, said ungrateful child offered the dress to me. And then, when I tried it on, declared how great it looked on me.

I, also, think it looks great on me.

I’m not entirely sure how to take that, frankly, but anyway. Here’s the dress. Questionable taste of fourteen-year-olds aside, I like it quite a bit.

The vintage is late sixties or early 70s (I was told 70s but the style feels more 60s to me… maybe that’s just the length, though, which has been altered). It’s an empire-line cut with a darted bodice and long darts to fit the skirt over the hips. In fact, it’s very similar in style to the grad dress my mother made herself in 1970. And it was entirely home-made, by someone whose skill, while adequate, certainly wasn’t any greater than most of us bloggy types.

The interior.

The dress is unlined, but entirely underlined. It’s made out of a satiny teal twill, undoubtedly polyester, with an overlay of white lace in the bodice area.

“ribbon” waistband

The matching ribbon “waistband” and bow at the front are made of tubes of the fashion fabric, finished by hand at the ends.

Seam finish and darts

The raw edges on the inside are finished with a zig-zag (with considerably less rolling than I’ve ever encountered when zig-zagging). The long, double-ended waist darts have a snip in the middle, to allow them to curve more smoothly. Possibly I should be doing something similar for my Project Drop Waist efforts, but I’m not a big fan of the raw edges. I suppose that’s what lining is for.

Shoulder seam

The shoulder-seam is finished by hand. Given that the dress originally had sleeves, and how freakin’ snug it is under the armpits, I suspect my sister-in-law’s mother took the shoulders up to shorten the whole bodice for my niece, who may be busty but is definitely not tall. The bust darts are distinctly high on me, too, although where the empire waist falls is perfect. (That being said, before I read the Slapdash Sewist’s trick, I used to sometimes finish sleeveless shoulders this way, too, so I didn’t have to hand-stitch in the lining (in this case, facing). But like I said, the dress originally had sleeves, so I can’t imagine why it would’ve had this kind of finish on the shoulder if it’s not from alteration.)

Lapped zipper

The back zipper is lapped, and the top has some of the same kind of funkiness that I tend to run into when I attempt such things, making me think that either that’s intentional or that the dress’s original stitcher was as inept as I generally am. Other than that it’s reasonably well executed, but not hand-picked.

Back view

The bodice fits well enough but the rib zone is, ah, snug. Cute, but not quite fit perfection (not recommended if deep breathing is going to be required, either).  As per usual, the portion above the waist is a smidge long (but less than I might have expected, which also makes me think the shoulders were taken up). Fortunately, there’s lots of room in the hips. The horizontal fold deepens a bit at centre back—swayback joy.

Inside view of bodice darts

The bodice darts are sliced, zig-zagged, and pressed open to reduce bulk. I have heard of this, but haven’t tried it yet myself. I think that about covers the construction details, however. Oh, bodice is finished with a one-piece facing, which you’d be able to see in the first interior picture if you clicked to embiggen it.

Still cute. Fit quibbles aside, I feel like a curvy bombshell in this dress. Which is unusual for me.

Also, I GOT A HAIRCUT! It’s been, um, six months. Aiee. I feel human again! Although I tried to use a hair wax to style it this time, like my stylist does. When she does it it looks smooth and soft and fluffy. Somehow, whenever I try to use a wax, it ends up stringy and greasy-looking. But I won’t complain, because I love my haircut. And this dress. I totally don’t think it’s over the top to wear a vintage 60s prom dress for running errands. Do you?

*yes, my fourteen-year-old niece gives me hand-me-downs…

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “Somebody Else’s Handmade Dress

  1. Aren’t you just dying to get your hands on the other vintage dresses? That was the first thing I thought of.

    It certainly isn’t over the top to wear this dress while running errands, you might want to do without the wrist corsage though. 8-D

  2. Love the dress. I think wearing a vintage prom dress to wear errands would be a good way to balance out the plethora of people wearing their jammies/sweats to run errands. Kind of a restoring balance to the universe sort of thing.

  3. you know how i feel about prom dresses!

    this is way cute on you, color and everything. thank god for ungrateful children.

  4. It looks like the dress was made for you, tanit-isis! Superb color and classic style on you.

  5. Being of a certain vintage, I wore a very similar dress to prom in 1968. It was the same color, sleeveless, had the same bow and was half lace and half solid…but the lace and solid fabric were reversed. Lace skirt, solid bodice. I went to Joske’s to have my hair done with more hair spray and bobby pins than I have ever seen since. I was in heaven and I thought I looked like a movie star. I didn’t, but that’s okay. Fond memories!

    • My mom’s yearbook has some pretty impressive hairstyles, too. I’m a little glad I don’t have to try and do the 60s hair… it wouldn’t be a happy pairing. :)

  6. I think the vintage would have to be late 60s/early 70s because my mother had some near identical dresses that my grandmother made for her. They last fit me when I was 14…oh to be that ungrateful child again, ha.

    I think you can wear it with flat sandals and a jean jacket to run errands. At least, that’s what I would do!

    • I have one or two tops from when I was 14 that still fit… no bottoms, though.

      I like your styling suggestions! Although I’ll probably do ballet flats as I still haven’t found a pair of flat sandals that I like enough to buy.

  7. That’s a pretty dress, in a style that suits you wonderfully. I second the “flats and a jean jacket” suggestion for making it supermarket and regular life appropriate… Otherwise- also good for regular sorts of parties, I think.

    • Now, if only I actually went to regular parties… ;)

      I agree, flats and my little cropped jean-jacket. Unless I get around to making a lighter version…

  8. Sufiya

    Very nice! The colour looks great on you, BTW.

  9. Dianne Shepherd

    That is a gorgeous dress and you look lovely in it!

  10. Her loss, your gain! You definitely look like a curvy goddess in this one, so yeah, rock it! :-)

  11. How interesting reading about construction details…most interested in the split and finished darts….great reading, thank you. And yes, the dress looks awesome on you- colour, fit and all round siren qualities.

  12. What an interesting post! I loved seeing all the details and you look Fab! I say get the wrist corsage and head for the shopping center!

  13. LinB

    Yeah, we used to slice darts open like that all the time — no finishing of raw edges, no lining –standard pattern instructions. Hellish for later alterations, tho.

    • Yeah, I can see that. I’ve only heard it called for when there’s a *lot* of bulk going on—the top does have three layers of fabric, but they’re all fairly thin, so I think it would’ve been fine either way.

  14. Oklahoma Mom

    I love this dress it looks perfect on you and I really like your hair cut.

  15. Are you kidding me, people? That is an absolutely gorgeous cocktail dress — Isis-Tanit just needs to lose an inch around her rib cage or the dress needs to be let out a bit, if there is enough in the seams to allow. Otherwise, perfectly gorgeous. The color is perfect on her, the length is perfect (oh, I would kill for those legs with no cellulite) her hair style is definitely retro and so is the black color. All together a smashing look. I don’t care about all the mish-mash goof-ups on the sewing. Try on an off the rack dress these days and find twice as many, ha!

  16. How cute is that dress?! So funny that it was a hand-me-down from a 14 year old. I found a crinoline last year that, after doing some research, found out it was a kid’s size and it fit me. Um, woohoo!
    Anyway, I love finding handmade dresses in thrift stores and then analyzing the construction! It’s so much fun. :) And I also just got a haircut after waiting 6 months – felt soooo good! It costs a lot to get a haircut in New York, but I really shouldn’t wait that long… I also know what you mean about trying to replicate the smooth, soft and fluffy feel – I always dread having to wash my hair after a haircut because I know it’ll never look as good! Boo. :(

  17. Pingback: Spider Dress, Spider Dress… | Tanit-Isis Sews

  18. What an awesome dress! I love it. I’m just catching up on reading and couldn’t resist commenting. I mean, I love the Spidey dress and all, but that’s just.. adorable and sexy all at once somehow.

  19. Nah wear it with heels for those errands and enjoy the admiring glances. Thank gods for teenagers…. sometimes.

  20. Pingback: Promaballoona, Vintage Edition | Tanit-Isis Sews

  21. Helena A.

    OH.MY! I’m in LOVE with this dress!!! And the colour? Perfect!!! How lucky you are!
    Kisses from Portugal!

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