That slinky summer dress

Fun dress

Claire suggested, most sagely, that I make something quick and knittish as a palate cleanser after my recent detail-heavy exertions.  Of course, she was hinting I make up Zoe’s new “vest” pattern, which is indeed quite cute and tempting, but I decided to jump on the maxidress bandwagon. Ok, it doesn’t exactly take much to get me on the maxidress bandwagon. (see here, here… oh, and here.)

Yes, jealousy over Tyo’s Boredom Dress got the better of me, and I busted out Simplicity 7434, all the way from 1976.

Simplicity 7434

This pattern is part of the Ratzlaff Collection, a number of patterns I nabbed from the Mennonite thrift in my hometown, all of which bear the name “Darlene Ratzlaff” (except one which belonged to “Mrs. Art Ratzlaff.”) Most of them are from the late sixties and earliest seventies, and are a size 10 or 12. So I’m not sure why, in 1976 (or 1977), Mrs. Ratzlaff thought she should buy a size 8 pattern. Did she dramatically lose weight? Is it possible to lose weight when your culinary cultural heritage includes rollkuchen**? Did she have a daughter finally reach the women’s sizes*? Obviously we shall never know (unless I start telephoning all the Ratzlaffs in my hometown until I find the right one. Which would be amusing.)


This is designed for a size 8 bias woven. I am obviously not a size 8, but I thought it just might work in a knit. A quick comparison with my altered Renfrew pattern suggested that, in fact, the sizing was almost identical. KA-CHING.

Front view

From the envelope drawing (and even the technical drawings on the back) I’d assumed it was a simple tank-style pattern underneath the funny cape thingy. Not quite—it has separate shoulder pieces, meant to be cut on grain. I opted to cut them double and add a knit interfacing, so the shoulders are quite sturdy. Knit being knit, I cut the dress pieces on grain as well. The only alteration I made was to fold out a small (1 cm) swayback wedge from the back. In the facings-loving world of 70s patterns, this pattern calls for a bound edge on the neck and armscyes! Perfect, since that was what I was going to do anyway.

Y’all may recall that my comparable pattern, Renfrew, is recommended for a stable knit.

Stable knit, this fabric is not.

Back view

When I first tried it on, it was, in a word, tentlike. The only thing that wasn’t sagging and bagging was the (heavily reinforced) shoulders, which were sitting rather too far to the sides. Fortunately, there’s a CF seam. I took in the front and side-seams about 1″ each above the waist, tapering to nothing below, and on the back I angled in in my swayback region to take out 2-3″ of width, tapering to nothing below the waist. There’s still a little bit of room back there that I could tweak further, I think due to the weight of the skirt, but the side-seams are already tending to ride backwards and I don’t really want to take any more out of the front, so I think I’ll leave it, at lest for the moment. Fabric weight produced the gain in length I had expected, but didn’t see, in Tyo’s dress, so that it currently sweeps the floor unless I wear heels. I may have to trim it for practicality, but I’m liking the extravagant length for now.


The neckline seemed a tad bare when I first tried it on, so I added the raw-edge bow (click through to the full size photo if you can’t see it… it’s there, I swear). I was sort of hoping the fabric would whirl itself into tight curls when stretched and stay that way, but alas, no dice. If I decide I really want a skinny stringy bow, I’ll make and turn some tubes, but I think I’m ok with the raw edge. The hem is raw, too. It has a fabulous flow and drape and, as observed with the bow, no significant tendency to curl.

Of course, all of this has been completed just in time for the end of our glorious week of summer weather (I might’ve had better pictures if I’d been willing to stand outside for more than thirty seconds…). Will summer and +30C tmeperatures return? No telling, this close to the mountains, but I fervently hope so. A few solid weeks of heat like that and I might actually be able to face the inexorable return of winter.


Bonus: Osiris likes it. Very, very much. >:D

*Tyo is feeling very fashionably frustrated right now. Nothing in the children’s racks appeals to her, but the women’s sizes are still mostly too big. The exception is the very smallest of the size 0/1 jeans, of which she now has several pairs, although unfortunately they don’t have the handy buttonhole elastics for cinching in the inevitable above-butt gapage that is her genetic heritage. Probably I should look into that alteration. *wince* I have a few junior teen patterns, but they’re mostly from the 70s and while I think they’re adorable, they’re not quite the current zeitgeist…

**my stylish sister in law is married to a Mennonite, and has been learning to make rollkuchen. Nomnomnom…



Filed under Sewing

54 responses to “That slinky summer dress

  1. Oh, I love your dress! Now I’m tempted to make a maxi, although it is NOT my best silhouette… The “growing” knits do give me pause, but I think they tend to reach their maximum after the first few wearings — you might have to wash it after each wear to return it to the correct size, though.

    I kinda wish you would have called the Ratzlaffs. That would have been funny.

    I remember being Tyo’s age and having that waist-butt gap. I got around it with overalls. Too bad they’re kind of out of style right now….

  2. You should try the JSterns Designs jeans patterns for your daughter, they are very youthful in the sizing, my daughter, rtw size 1, has worn hers to shreds.

    • I have the Jalie 2908 jeans pattern which I’ve used a LOT. It is drafted for a flatter bottom, but I’ve gotten better at fixing that. The problem right now is that she wants skinny jeans, which she currently outgrows in about five minutes, and I’m not prepared to make jeans that are only worn for a month. Or buy expensive—we are confining ourselves to the thrift store racks for the moment.

      • Could you make her some skinny jeans with denim on the front pieces + back pockets… but with ponte-roma / stable thicker knit for back pieces including back-portion of waisband – but with denim belt-loops). The bit of stretch/give might grow with her for a few more months before she has to pass on her old jeans to Syo?

  3. Love the dress. It looks so comfortable, but still really stylish.

  4. I’m always intimidated by knits when shopping at the fabric store. They always feel icky or slinky or too thin or too thick, and I’m just not experienced with them. So I default to wovens. I have a lot of wovens. I very much admire (and envy) you and Steph’s amazing knitty creations! This is no exception. 🙂

    • A nice, sturdy doubleknit is probably a great place to start with knits—but finding something that feels nice is a good start. My problem is I tend to wait until things hit clearance, and often what hits clearance is, ah, not exactly awesome.

  5. Oklahoma Mom

    Lovely dress…

  6. Ah, super cute! I can’t say I have been wanting to jump on the maxi dress bandwagon, but you may have just changed my mind…

  7. Osiris and Mr. Lina may have similar tastes (and I heartily second Osiris on this one, that looks awesome). We were in Toronto for a Jays game on Friday night and many women were wearing clingy maxi dresses. I was told that more of those need to show up in my wardrobe. 😉

  8. Katherine

    This fabric looks so gorgeous on you. It looks like the perfect throw on dress for instant glam when you want to be comfortable.

  9. Maybe it’s because I’m 5’3″, or maybe it’s because I’m…*ahem*…pudgy, but I just don’t see maxi dresses being a flattering look for me. I do get jealous of everyone one else’s though. 😦 Yours turned out great, and I can see why Osiris would like it. 😉

    As for the rollkuchen, we have a significant population of Holderman Mennonites (similar to your Hutterites), and I’ve never heard of these. They sound delicious though, so I’m going to have to try that recipe. 😉 I’d say thanks, but my ass definitely won’t be thankful….. 😛

    • Aww. I hate to forbid a “look” to anyone, but if it’s not going to make you happy, by all means do give it a pass.

      I think we have a few commune-type Mennonites here in Alberta, but the ones I’m talking about are definitely the mainstream variety. And yes, it is delicious. And no, your butt probably won’t be thankful. I’m safe because I’m pretty much terrified of anything resembling deep-frying. 🙂

  10. That’s a lovely dress! I wear a lot of ankle-length skirts, and finding dresses that work as such is hard to do- someday I’ll actually learn to sew, instead of just reading about people doing it (in preparation, I swear), and then I’ll be making all sorts of things like this…

  11. Oh yeah…this is sweet. Like knit rollkuchen…

  12. heh. I own some of the Ratzlaff collection!

  13. Amy

    I’ll bet he likes it! It really shows you off, very elegant and comfy looking at the same time. I love that print! 70s patterns are so cool…

  14. love the dress, love the ratzlaff’s story (especially cause i had an immuno prof named Ratzlaff in my master’s) what sorts of patterns is Tyo looking for? also i LOVE the maxi and hate that i can not rock that silhouette, but it means i live vicariously thru you and others that can!

    • haha! My highschool drama teacher was a Ratzlaff, if I ever run into him when I’m Home I’ll definitely ask about his cousin Darlene.

      Part of Tyo’s problem, at least in the pants department, is that I’m not willing to sew her pants that she’ll outgrow in a month, which seems to be how long most of the skinny jeans last at this age. She’s actually doing OK for tops, although I am shortening a lot of shoulder straps…

  15. carol456

    I have a similar collection of patterns from the op shop that once belonged to Carol Fehlberg. Through those patterns I can track the growth of her children (she had at least one boy and one girl) from toddler to young teen. Mrs Fehlberg stayed a similar size throughout the 70’s and 80’s and in the 90’s started to put on a little weight. I also know that Mr Fehlberg was fashionable in the 70’s for there are two kaftan patterns and a safari suit (all used). I once met a man with the same surname and asked if he was Carol Fehlberg’s son. It turns out that he was and he said that his mother would have been pleased to know that her patterns had gone to a loving home, which always makes me smile when I use one of them. Having told that story, I love your dress and I really like the pattern you’ve used. It’s very flattering.

  16. My Mother, having a good deal of Norwegian in her family tree, made something called fatehman (which I’m sure I butchered the spelling), but its this sort of fried dognut batter sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. DEEELISH.

    Anyway, I adores that dress and fabric on you.

    • Yeah, that sounds about right. Damn, now I want some. Fried dough in any incarnation is pretty much amazing, isn’t it? One of those things that cuts across cultural divides…

    • Oooh… my Mum’s Chinese can she used to make us these stubby-stick things – like doughnuts but less sweet they’re called Youtiao (pronounced IRRC “you-jar-quay”) 🙂 Shame I don’t eat doughnuts anymore LOL!

  17. Oh good – sewing for yourSELF. Hooray to you and lucky Osiris too hey? All hail to the 70s, for this at least.

  18. Love the dress T!
    P.S. Are you usin’ some clever filter thingey to get the nice effect on a coupla the phots above hun :)?

  19. Husbands do like the clingy maxi dresses, don’t they? 😉 Yours looks fantastic, and I am glad you omitted the capelet sleeve things! It’s too bad there’s no good way of finishing the hem so that it retains its loose swingy-ness with just a regular machine…

    • Yeah, they do, don’t they. 🙂 Well, we have to make them happy once in a while (in between our fabulous superhero dresses).

      Officially my stone-age serger can do a rolled hem, but it requires screwdriver adjustments and a different needle plate (which I don’t have)—so not happening.

      … I’m kind of tempted to do an intentionally tattered-looking “pirate” hem

  20. hello, i’m for a first time here and i love Your blog. And i’ll follow it 🙂

  21. Very cool dress.

    Do Mennonites marry outside of the group? (i don ‘t know much about christian groups in canada but i thought they were pretty exclusive). If so, its a very good way to spread the cooking love and the calories!

    • Well, I can’t say about the commune-living variety, but the mainstream ones don’t seem to have any more issues than any other Christian denominations—which is to say that I’m sure the more devout have to work it out within each couple, while the nominally or culturally Mennonite ones (which is most of the ones I know) really don’t give a crap.

      See above for the cross-cultural appeal of really-bad-for-you foods. (At least rollkuchen is traditionally eaten with watermelon, so there’s at least some teeny redeeming value…)

  22. I would never have imagined something so chic coming from that pattern; the capelet thingy is far too distracting for me! LOL – love this on you, really cute fabric too! 🙂

  23. Joy

    Gorgeous! (Now I need a KNIT maxi-dress, hehe). I like the unusual fabric for it – it’s a little more “sophisticated” than “cute-and-summery”.

  24. keep it dramatic! sweeping around is one of life’s quiet little thrills — plus, its a knock out 🙂

  25. OOh! What a pretty neckline on you! Seriously, I will cry when maxi dresses go out of style.

  26. Pingback: Wads of wadders. | Tanit-Isis Sews

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