There are a LOT of reasons why I love vintage. The stories the garments come with, the attention to detail, the one-of-a-kind nature. But few things get my heart beating quicker than a glance at the INSIDE of a vintage garment. Back in the day, so much care went into every aspect of making a vintage dress – each seam, each stitch – and care even went to imagining the future woman who would wear her. The adjustments she might want to make. Because fashion was once about longevity.
Due to it’s one-of-a-kind nature, I often subscribe to the notion that vintage is “meant to be.” If it fits perfectly, than it traveled through time to meet me. If it doesn’t, it usually it means she is still searching for her next soulmate. But, there are those times when it’s pretty much impossible to walk away and Meant To Be makes way for Must Have. There are dresses that are so worth breaking the rules for…
This particular dress presented just such a conundrum when I saw her at Mother of Vintage. She made my heart skip a beat. Her intricate detail work and illusion bodice rendered me speechless. The sheer, netted panels and delicate flames licking around the neckline filled my soul with light…. I’m sure you get the idea – this was vintage dress porn at its finest.
So, I held my breath as I clicked onto her content page, only to devastatingly find her measurements as she stood were for someone far FAR more petite than me – she was short in the bodice and generally small in almost every conceivable way. She measured 34″ bust (eh), 23.5″ waist (boo), and free hip, with a 14″ length from shoulder to waist (bigger boo). Herm. I clock in at 35″ bust, 27-28″ waist, and 38 hip, with a longer-than-average torso of 16″ from shoulder to waist. This is the point when most us us sigh in frustration, cast one last longing look, and walk away. But fate was on my side…
As someone who loves to sew (case in point here & here), I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to tailoring vintage garments (or any garment). Whether you’re browsing in a thrift store of searching online, there are a few key terms to know when you’re trying to decide if you can let a dress out to suit your measurements:
Seam allowance: The area between the edge and the stitching line on two pieces of material being stitched together. This can range from a very small amount of fabric (1/4″) up to several inches.
Dart: These are essentially folds (tucks coming to a point) that are sewn into fabric to take in ease and provide shape to a garment, particularly in areas of curvature (hence why they are often seen in the bodice). They look like folded a triangle of fabric on the inside of a garment.
Back or Side Zip: We all know what a zipper is, but you’ll notice they can be at the back of a garment or on the side. Personally, I find garments with back zips much easier to tailor, especially for beginners, because you often can leave the zipper alone and tailor your garment based on the fabric in the side seam allowances. But, there can be a fair amount of fabric at the zipper as well, so it’s always good to check.
Although you are usually unlikely to get more than a few inches out of a garment, I took a chance and wrote to the lovely Hannah about the available seam allowance in this dress and was completely blown away by what came back to me…
Fanning the flames of my vintage-loving heart, one look at the inside of this dress and I knew that we were meant to be together. There was so much glorious fabric in the seam allowance and darts of this dress, with a good 2.5″ in each side seam allowance, another 2 inches in each bodice dart, and 1.5 inches in the zipper. There was also nearly 2″ of extra fabric in the bodice, meaning that I could let it down. So, all up, I had over 10″ in the bodice to expand, and could get the bodice length to 16″ easily.
So, she merrily floated all of the way over to Australia and into my arms. Thanks to generous seam allowances, my Bernina, and several cups of coffee on a Saturday, this beauty was ready to be transformed.
Step 1: Because I needed to lengthen the bodice, the first step was unpicking the zipper and the waist seam, removing the bodice from the skirt completely and pressing out the creases.
Step 2: Next, I unpicked the stitches in the side seams, and measured the waist flat to 14″ (which doubled, would get time my desired waist measurement of 27-28″, which a bit of wiggle room for eating). Once I was happy with that, I pinned the side seams with right sides together and, keeping it even on both sides, sewed them together with a straight stitch. Then, I opened the seam and pressed.
I made sure to apply a liberal amount of steam and massaged the old stitch lines in a circular motion, which helps to reduce the small holes from the old stitches.
Step 3: The skirt was a bit tricker. One thing to watch for – don’t just check the seam allowance in the bodice. Always check that there is the same seam allowance in the skirt (or at least, as much as you need). In this skirt, there wasn’t quite as generous of seam allowances, with only about 1″ in each of the side seams. But, the skirt had 8 darts total, with about 1.5″ of fabric in each. Instead of micro-manipulating each dart, I decided to remove two of the back darts completely and let the dress out slightly at the sides, giving me more than enough extra fabric to play with.
Step 4: Once my adjustments were complete, I reattached the bodice to the skirt and stitched the zip back in. Because the bodice was now lengthened, the zipper was a bit lower on the dress than it had been previously, so I sewed in a hook an eye about 2″ above the zipper, so it looks as if the zipper placement was intentional.
I tried her on and found a minor dart adjustment was needed (there was a bit of pointy boob syndrome). With the help of Sewanista, I scooped the dart slightly, and she was ready to party.
Step 5: Put it on and frolic around like a fool, resplendent in the fruits of your labor!
It’s the perfect time of year in Perth, where flowers are blooming in everyone’s gardens and the entire city is awash with color. Although I can get more than a few stares wandering around my neighborhood, dressed to the nines, I just had to take advantage of all of this stunning scenery. I have to say, the delicate rosettes on the bodice of this dress fit right in…
I couldn’t be happier with my tailoring outcome and am overjoyed that this dress is a part of my vintage collection. And the deep crimson stitches went perfectly with my latest footwear acquisition from Mo-Mo’s, which have always reminded me of rose petals.
The moral of this store is – always ask. If you are completely obsessed with a vintage dress but find her to be too small, always have a look inside! The guts of a garment can really tell a story. And if that beauty is online, don’t ever be afraid to email the seller and ask about seam allowances. The answer may surprise (and delight) you.
If you have any questions about tailoring, ask away in the comments below!
(and if you missed it, I’ve been continually updating my list of Black Friday deals from around the web – including incredible sales at some of my favorite vintage shops. Hope you snag a deal!)
Dress: Mother of Vintage (similar here, here, here & here)
Belt: ASOS (similar here & here)
Bracelet: Gift (similar here & here)
Handbag: Moyna NY (similar here, here & here)
Shoes: thrifted from Mo-Mo’s Vintage (similar here, here & here)
Lip Color: Nars Heat Wave