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Jul 20, 2011

Sewing the 1952 Strapless Cocktail Dress

Readers, one can only maintain a sewing blog and not sew for so long.

OK, that's not a pretty sentence (would a second comma help?) but I think you know what I'm talking about.  At a certain point one must make an executive decision and get back to work.  Plus I was getting tired of writing about old magazines and library books.

Some of you are no doubt wondering what happened to the sparkly jumpsuit and/or bathing suit project.  Wasn't that supposed to happen next?  And how about that ironing board cover? 

Friends, if you've been following me a while you know that I simply can't strong-arm myself.  I either feel it or I don't and if I don't, then it just won't work.  Rest assured, I will use that sparkly fabric someday soon; I promise it won't sink to the bottom of my stash like the vinyl python print.  As far as the ironing board cover, I took the easy way out: I simply folded the wool blanket in half, laid it on top of the ironing board, and strapped the old cover on top, with excellent results.  Anyway, I'm now thinking I need a larger ironing board.  Can those be purchased online anywhere?

But back to sewing. As you can see up top, I have made my bodice muslin and I think this is going to work, though I may add an inch to the bodice length.  Wait -- do you even remember what pattern I'm sewing?

Here it is!  Isn't it simply too "Once Upon a Dream"?

The pattern, which dates from 1952, was uncut and still had its factory folds!

Sadly, the outer envelope was missing, but thanks to the Internet, I could dig one up to share with you.

I bought it from a woman in Manitoba, Canada and it took over a month to arrive.  Canadian readers, what is up with the Canadian mail headed for the USA?  Is this some sort of payback for our stealing Deanna Durbin and Michael J. Fox?  Let it go already!

Fortunately, I'd had a similar experience with an earlier pattern I'd purchased from Canada (via Etsy), so I didn't panic. But as you can imagine, after waiting a month for a pattern to arrive, one loses one's momentum.

Long story short, yesterday I decided that this would indeed be my next sewing project, no turning back.

A strapless bodice is actually pretty simple -- it's just two pattern pieces (lined).  Today I'm going to the Garment District in search of spiral steel boning, which I'll attach to the bodice lining.  That's a new technique for me but there's a lot of excellent instruction about it in Susan Khalje's Bridal Couture book.  I also found a good article she wrote about boning a few years ago for Threads, here.

Here are the bodice pattern pieces (as you can see, the places the boning should go are marked), back and front:

And here's the inside of the bodice muslin front:

Not having Cathy nearby, I tried it on -- with a little judicious padding of course, but no shaving -- and for a first stab it's not bad at all.

Now you may be wondering what fabric I'm going to use for this 1952 dress.  Remember this?

I have scads of this polished cotton floral fabric, almost a dirdnl skirt in a former life, and it's been sitting around too long.  As far as the matching bolero, I'll probably make that in some sort of solid sateen -- perhaps with a lace overlay -- and line it with the floral print.  

Friends, that's it!  For the first time in a month I can say that I must get to my sewing project!

I hope wherever you are, you're staying cool -- or warm as the weather demands -- and sewing away.  Or thinking of sewing away; it's all good.  Hey, it took me a month.

Have a great day everybody.  Send me good boning karma please!


  1. Too cute! '50s style cocktail dresses are too fun to make - that is a fact.
    As for the Canadian post - they were on strike for a while there. I'm assuming there's a bit of a backlog. (I had to ship something to Canada and paid four times as much for UPS because I couldn't go with the standard post.)

  2. Canada Post was on strike — and then they got locked out during the stalled negotiations. That's the reason my parents' birthday gifts were late this year, I swear!

  3. Well that's good to know -- thanks!

  4. "Readers, without sewing, one can only maintain a sewing blog for so long" ?

    I was about to give you the heads-up on the Canada Post strike/lockout but you're already well-informed, I see. The mail is moving again, albeit sluggishly.

    The pattern looks GORGEOUS and I'm so happy to see that rose print being used. Can't wait!

  5. I think that pattern and the floral fabric are a perfect combination of vintage fabulousness. Cathy is going to love this one!

  6. the roses print is so lovely! welcome back to sewing! I guess I should get back too!:))

  7. The kharma you seek, resides with you.

  8. Ooooh, I like it! Can't wait to see the bolero - it will be so pretty with lace!

  9. Check Gertie's blog, Peter. IIRC, she did a boning tutorial not so long ago. And I feel your non-sewing pain. Tomorrow is my day off from babywatching, so I should be able to start again tomorrow morning!

  10. Strapless bodices are often sewn of panels as well. In fact, though I haven't sewn many strapless bodices, most I've done are panel construction rather than a single piece.

    Regardless, I think an extra inch on top would add a bit of 1950s modesty to the dress--in a good way!

  11. For the bigger ironing board, you could go to the Bed Bath & Beyond at 6th & 17th or somewhere around there. Free delivery in Manhattan! I had to lug stuff back to Brooklyn on the F, which was a bit of pain.

  12. Peter, you are truly inspiring. Now I want to get going on a project -- any project -- after being inactive for too long. I can't wait to see the dress with the bolero. Now, if only I could invent an occasion to wear a dress like that!

  13. The dress will be fab. But maybe a plain rose satin bolero? Maybe not. Cathy is so much bolder than I am.

    You obviously don't have trouble ordering from Canada. My bank automatically blocks transactions to/from Canada, because of some high rate of fraud. Is this just my bank, or is this actually real?

    Are your arms really that long? Good thing Cathy doesn't have those.

  14. Hello Peter,
    It looks like someone told you about the strike/lockout at Canada Post but the lady from Manitoba (you didn't specify which part) may have been building a sandbag dike around her home or the home of a friend of family member. Many parts of the province around the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers and Lake Manitoba are experiencing unprecedented flooding and have been struggling since April.
    On a happier note, I can't wait to see how this dress turns out. I've been wondering for ages what you would make out of that fabric!

  15. Egads!!!!...the floral print!!!! I TOO am going to HAVE to get back to sewing....but it's so hot!!! I wonder if I'll still fit into the dress...Oh dear...tea at the Waldorf with Cathy and Michael...Oh, you haven't heard about this? Cathy invited me.

  16. I'm not sure how it works in the other direction, but it always takes at least 2-4 weeks for stuff to arrive to me in Canada from the States, regardless of the recent strike! (Which ended several weeks ago.) Maybe it's a border issue? So I feel your pain, considering how few online vendors are actually located here in Canada!

  17. Oh, I'd forgotten all about this one! I totally love the ribbon detail, but if you add the lace bolero it may be a little bit over the top. But, hey, it's Cathy, right? I'm looking forward to learning a lot from this project as always.

  18. I got the call from my credit card when I ordered something from Canada, too, k, so I assume it's a real thing. The fraud, I mean, is real.

    Anyway, Peter, I'm not nearly as accomplished as most who follow this blog (I only use actual commercial patterns, for example, and seldom even try a different sleeve or something), and I have found boning to be easy-peasy. You simply sew a little casing and stick the (uh) stick in there.

    As for the second comma: no. Your original sentence is quite lovely. I enjoy a daring grammatical turn when done correctly.

    I'm fairly new and love your blog, btw. I would actually sign in, but the google login is uncooperative. I'll just be Anon for now.

  19. oooh, it's so young, vivacious Debbie Reynolds! Perfect for similarly vivacious Cathy. As for the sequin fabric, can't you work it in as a fab costume for Michaels cabaret show, or is that another story???

  20. Oh goodness. This project is so awesome it makes for the sparkly jumpsuit I was hoping for ;)

  21. Ooo fun project!

    Nice to see Michael's face again (in the corner on the file cabinet). Hi Michael!

  22. I agree with you completely, Peter, either I feel the project, or I don't. And nothing can make me feel it if "it" isn't there at the moment.

    I LOVE the dress pattern and the fabric. I can't wait to see your updates and the finished project.

    I've been doing sewing machine maintenance for the last few days - hopefully, I'll get back to sewing very soon. I'm sure my blog readers would appreciate more tutorials instead of more posts about sewing related information.

  23. Ooh this looks like fun! In fact you've inspired me to hop out of bed and walk towards the sewing machine!

  24. Speaking to you from Manitoba Canada I can understand your waiting pain. I'm not going to give you excuses like "the don't blink or you'll miss it postal lock-out/strike/what-ever-you-want-to-call-it", "flood waters", or "being carried away by mythic mosquitos". I find the same thing when I order patterns on-line from Vogue or Colette and have them shipped here to Manitoba. I blame it on customs. I'm kidding.

    All I know is that I'm itching to get my hands on Vogue 1259, 1261, 8752, and 1263 before my summer holidays are up. What is a gal to do? If I order them on-line via Vogue they take for what feels like forever! So I'm left here biting my nails hoping they get into my local fabric store soon.

    Anyway, same feeling on this side of the border.

    And I love the floral print! I can't wait to see how it turns out!

    Happy sewing!

  25. Glad you are back on track. And excellent timing as I'm about to start a strapless boned bodice project, too. Would it be incredibly selfish of me to hope you will post details on construction? (Pretty please!?!?!)

    PS - Next, I think you should really consider those Burda poodle pants. If anyone can wear them with aplomb, it's Cathy.

  26. I'm not sure if "synchronicity" is the right word, but just the other day, I cut out a corset/bustier pattern with boning just so I could learn how to make them. It's a modern Butterick one, with lacing both front and back. I have a gorgeous purple (of course! It's my theme colour) chinese-y brocade for the fashion fabric, and I ran out of the purple taffeta from my stash for the lining, but found some pink taffeta to use for the rest of it... Hope it works! Then it'll be on to the Wonder Woman bodice for which this is a sort of practise.
    Had fun trying to buy the boning though... Apparently NOBODY in Melbourne sells steel spiral boning, so I'm going with rigilene instead, and then had trouble buying the 7.1m the pattern said to get all in one piece. Wish me luck!

  27. Oh, and regarding Canada Post, I ordered a Kwik-Sew pattern from for a dance costume for my daughter, and to save on postage also whacked a Jalie (Canadian) pattern into the order. They arrived yesterday - 45 days after I placed the order! I was getting desperate because a) mail from North American usually takes 7-10 days to reach me here in Sunny Melbourne and b) I have to make this costume before the dance competition!
    I had emailed and filled in "contact us" forms online and even RUNG California to no avail, all they would tell me was that the patterns were posted on June 27. Hello! It's July 20 today! I personally think they were posted for delivery by camel and the camels drowned while kayaking to me via Hawaii.
    But at least they're here now! Now I have an excuse to go out and get some red satin for those shorts!

  28. Cathy is going to look stunning in that dress! That pattern just looks beautiful and the fabric is perfect for it.

  29. Oh!! :O The Canada Post strike is over?? We haven't noticed yet in Montreal... ... ... :/

  30. Hi Peter,
    It has been an age since I have popped in to visit your blog - I have my reasons and it is nothing to do with your fabulous self! So here I am popping in and to my pleasant surprise you are making a pattern that I also own! OMG! :) I'll be back to see how you are going with it and I can't wait to see the finished product! I'm yet to make this glorious dress. :)

  31. I love the dress! I used to make a lot of boned strapless dresses when I worked in a costume shop. I hope you'll remember to put in a waist stay, to help the whole thing stay UP!
    Can't wait to see it finished.

  32. Just wondering....did someone pin you into that bodice? How did you get it on so tightly?

  33. Oh Peter,
    I hope Cathy appreciates this one!! it's going to be a stunner and I can't wait to see the construction process and end results.

    Cathy will be a knockout in it!

  34. The shape of that dress on the pattern envelope is simply stunning! I really hope you include the cute ribbon detailing around the bodice and skirt!


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