A Swingy Sundress // Vintage Butterick 4634

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

Ahhh! I am finally back in the land of the living…er blogging. After being away in California for a week, we then celebrated Rory’s 30th birthday (with a robot-themed costume party) and the wedding of one of my closest friends, all in a short window of time. It was totally exhausting, to the point that I barely wanted to move, so it took a little while to recoup.

Luckily, I sewed up this summery frock right before the madness, just in time to wear for another wedding the day before departing to Cali. The perfect kick-off to my summer sewing.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

Amazingly, some of the balloons from Rory’s birthday are still floatin’ around so I thought I would take them with me for the photos. It was pretty funny, this shoot. I decided last minute to venture out and in the morning everything looked beautiful and sunny. I went and curled my hair, did my makeup and and set up my camera remote, and as soon as I got dressed to go…it was raining. AH the most frustrating feeling, no?

Luckily it was one of our usual summer rains and was gone nearly as quickly as it came…but it left the wind behind. My normally peaceful walk to the university campus was, as I am sure, wildly entertaining for any passerbys. These balloons deserve a medal for their fortitude. Whipping around, getting tangled, and getting pulled by the wind at full force. I basically had to hug them to keep things under control.

At our destination, they were mildly better behaved, though when I wanted to take shots without them my weight wasn’t weighty enough and I had to run down the sidewalk chasing them like a loon at least 3 times. But look how cute they are!

The things we do for our blogs, eh?

But I digress. About 5 years ago, I raided the sewing spaces of both my grandmothers leaving with a huge file box full of their old sewing patterns. I remember that summer, sitting on the floor rifling through, knowing I couldn’t take them all and trying hard to choose what to keep. I immediately grabbed dresses, both full skirts and shift dresses, mostly from the 60s and early 70s. It was, however, easy to leave behind a large stack of frothy garments from the 80s.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

This was around the time of my sewing renaissance, near the end of high school and my skills were definitely lacking. The first pattern I made from the stash was a late 50s circle skirt and was way too heavy with the fabric I chose, and I did not know how to properly fit the waistband. I wore it once. The second was a cute 60s shift that I made in a pink plaid… quilting cotton. I wore it twice. (and years later noticed the bias binding was done laughably wrong and I managed to fix t up a bit for MMMay ’15). After that, the vintage patterns lay dormant.

When I was fabric shopping for Martha, I came upon this blush floral fabric and fell immediately smitten. It has a crepe paper-like texture that I hadn’t seen before. Though it didn’t make the cut for Martha, I asked for a humble 1m, knowing I would find something for it this summer. Around this time, summer wedding invites flowed in, and I couldn’t help think that this fabric would be so nice for a wedding. I stared at my pattern shelf and couldn’t see anything that suited the fabric or what I had in mind. I dug out the file box and this tent dress jumped out at me. A match made in heaven.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

The pattern is Butterick 4634 and from what I assume is the late 60s. I scoured the envelope and instructions to find a printed copyright date, but for some reason Butterick and Simplicity patterns don’t seem to have it. It is a one-piece dress, meaning that it is cut on the fold and is seamed at the shoulders and centre back. The pattern has lots of options, such as a high collar and various sleeves. I opted for view F, sleeveless with the collar.

Now, tent dresses like this eat up a LOT of fabric, which at the moment, I did not have. I measured the width of my fabric and carefully took in volume from both sides and under the armscye until I could squeeze it onto my fabric. This left the dress with a softer, more a-line shape. I also just squeezed out the collar, leaving nothing but fluttery scrappy bits behind.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

The sewing itself was a breeze, and at this point I find I can intuitively figure out most of the steps (especially now that I understand how bias binding works.) The instructions for sewing on the collar were really helpful and easy. I really like the finish. I did have to adjust the size of it though, because the collar was HUGE. It was so tall it looked like a neck brace and I shaved off about half the width. (As I look at the pattern envelope now, I realize you are probably supposed to fold over the collar. D’oy).

The pattern  called for a zip closure at the upper back neck, but since my fabric was so light, I opted to leave it open as a keyhole, and just close the collar with two buttons (and Tilly’s elastic loop trick). At the end, I noticed the dress had a slight high-low hem effect happening, which was a happy surprise and played well with the overall shape. I attribute the shift because of my pattern meddling earlier.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

I am so happy I was able to eek this dress from the fabric I had. I have two more weddings this summer that I don’t need to worry about finding a dress for. Ha.

After my month-long stitching hiatus I feel like I have my sew-jo back, just completing a Papercut Patterns dress yesterday and another project cut and ready to go! I know some sewists find it hard to make things in the summer, but I really enjoy that there are usually plenty of occasions happening to wear new creations almost immediately.

This has really helped me get motivated to look back into the vintage pattern box more frequently. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that I have the pattern for the jacket Jade made for 1960s week on the Sewing Bee… I smell an autumn project on the horizon.

Vintage 60s Tent Dress // Boots & Cats

Flower Power // Tilly and the Buttons Martha Dress

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

Blooming, bright and frolicky is exactly how you’d describe the light sunny days of May this dress.  That’s right folks, spring (aka dress sewing season) is upon us in full swing and I am thrilled to share another bold 60s-inspired frock to kick it off.

Last month the lovely team at Tilly and the Buttons reached out and asked if I would be interested in previewing a new pattern. Unlike anything I had ever seen before from an indie pattern, the Martha dress is a princess-seamed, bell sleeved, bias-skirted wonder. I instantly fell in love with the high collar and heavy late-sixties vibe. I did not hesitate to accept.

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

This is probably one of the most vintage looking new makes in my wardrobe (though I think Peggy comes close) and not something I’d be likely to find elsewhere, which makes me quite happy. Thankfully my friend let me take photos in her mid-century wonderland of a house to complement it. I could not imagine a more perfect setting to play and swish around in this dress.

I knew immediately I wanted to go all out California-girl with the fabric and went to the store in search of the brightest floral I could find. Luckily this neon polyester crepe had no trouble jumping out at me. I also purchased some matching yellow crochet trim to play with, but I ultimately left it off because this fabric won’t let anything else share the stage. My second design choice was a mint lace with underlay, based off a long lost sold-to-someone-else Etsy find, but I didn’t want to sew multiple layers together for a summer dress. Perhaps in version 2.0?

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

I also toyed with the idea of making a sleeveless version, which would probably be more comfortable on hot days, as well as more practical for cool-weather layering. After much debate (and Instagram feedback) I decided to leave them on. I really need to accept that I need more sleeves in my life. The bell sleeves also cement the vintage vibe. A sleeveless version probably would have a skater dress feel, which really opens this pattern to different styling opportunities.

If you are on a fabric budget, or have a great textile in your stash, I will say that the fabric requirements are quite generous and you can do a lot with less. The envelope suggests over 3m of fabric (to accommodate the bias cut skirt pieces, and long skirt version), but since I made the mini skirt in one of the smaller sizes, I was able to arrange and cut my pieces and was left with a solid meter of fabric leftover.

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

Because of the crepe texture of the fabric, it was great to sew with, sort of ‘sticking’ to itself and keeping still. However in cutting out the pieces, this was one of the few times having a cutting table would have been ideal. I do all my fabric cutting on the floor of my living room and while it works for thicker, stable fabrics, the soft flowy nature of this was not having it. I used my rotary cutter and 3 small cutting mats strategically placed underneath piece by piece to get the job done.

This haphazard cutting method left me with a few errors in my pieces. Things shifted and slid, as they do. For example,  when I went to attach the skirt to the bodice it was far too long! I could have gathered the skirt to make it fit but it would have totally ruined the dress’ silhouette. After some frustrated pondering, I opted to let out the side and princess seams to a 0.5 cm seam allowance to get them to fit (perfectly with aligned seams, I might add).

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

I am not a fan of facings on the best of days and for this project in particular I felt it was a bit superfluous. Because my fabric was so light and flowy, it added visible bulk to my neckline, so I removed it (with the exception of a small triangle bit to keep the zipper faced), and simply overlocked the collar piece to the bodice. I’ve said before that the beauty of the insides of my garments isn’t my #1 priority so this was an easy decision to make. I’m sure with a sturdier fabric the facing would add a nice finish and support the collar well.

The small tip of using a hair elastic for the button loop closure was one of those mind-blowing sewing hacks that make life so easy and make you say ‘now, why didn’t I think of that?!”. I felt a little guilty at first, cutting into a perfectly good hair tie, but since only a small portion (~5cm) is needed, I saved the remainder for future loops. It has lots of stretch and looks so good. Total win.

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

Size wise I cut a straight size 2 from Tilly’s size chart. It is a pretty spot on fit, though I could have graded out a little at the waist I think (my measurements sit between size 2-3) to allow extra room for pizza parties. Since the pattern has a natural waist seam I added my traditional 4 cm bodice lengthening (which as I now type this, I think also had probably something to do with my bodice/skirt alignment issues…)

What I really enjoyed about making this dress was the inclusion of new techniques that aren’t difficult, but things I simply hadn’t encountered before in a pattern. The bias cut skirt pieces and the high collar were new things to play with and learn from, without feeling scary or unattainable.

Swingin' Martha Dress // Boots and Cats

I am looking forward to picnics and patio parties and all other excuses to wear bright summery frocks. Not to mention even more summery frocks to sew sew sew. Ahhh I love this time of year.

This pattern was gifted to me as part of a request to preview the new Martha pattern. All opinions and sewing gaffes are my own.