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Jan 25, 2013

1939 McCall's Dress UPDATE + "Cain't Say No" (to Debi)

So much to cover today, friends, so let's get to it.

First, remember Debi and her arguably shark-jumping 1940 McCall Project?  Did I mention that I own a swimsuit pattern Debi would like very much to have?  Well, readers, after considerable whining and emotional blackmail -- on my part -- I've decided to give it to her.

Remember that scene in In the Good Old Summertime where Mr. Oberkugen (played by the inimitable S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall) gives his prized Stradivarius to that annoying violin prodigy, Louise, who's secretly in love with Van Johnson (who, in turn, is secretly in love with Judy Garland)?  As difficult as it is for Mr. Oberkugen to part his beloved instrument, he realizes that a Stradivarius belongs in the hands of somebody who will play it as it's meant to be played.

Well, that's the way I feel about McCall  3640.  I'm never going to sew it and it means a lot to Debi.

Please don't get the wrong idea: I'm getting something in return, and I'll be blogging about that as soon as it arrives.  And speaking of patterns, look what came in the mail yesterday, almost like a gift from the universe rewarding me for being such a selfless person.  It's the Marian Martin pattern I'd publicly coveted from Studio G Patterns where I bought my McCall pattern!  Thank you, Genny!

You see, friends: be nice to others and you get stuff.

Meanwhile, I've been hard at work at my McCall pattern, the day dress from 1939.

I didn't tell you this, but last weekend at the flea market I stumbled upon a treasure trove of fine-quality shirting (Italian, apparently) in roughly three yard pieces for $5 each.  (I got five for $20. ) Well one of the pieces, a lovely cotton flannel that actually more closely resembles Pendleton wool though a burn test reveals it is indeed cotton, was a little too orangey-pink to suit me or Michael.  But I thought it would be perfect for Cathy's 1939 dress.

It is fabulous fabric and a pleasure to sew with -- so much better than 100% polyester.  And sew with it I have, nearly all day yesterday.

I think the color and design really suit the period.  It also has a lovely drape.  My only question now is will the long sleeves make it look too Mennonite?  I don't mean to offend my Mennonite readers, it's just that Cathy is about as Mennonite as Mitzi Gaynor and this is already a modest dress, what with that buttoned-up plastron and all.  Plus it's a lot of plaid.

Oddly, I've actually had to raise the waistline on this version, which I did by simply widening the seam allowance where bodice and skirt meet, since the pieces were already cut.  The problem with that is that the bodice and skirt widen as you move up and down respectively on those two sections, leaving the dress a bit too big in the waist.  (You'll notice that while the bodice has gathers at the waist, the skirt is supposed to lie flat.  So I'll have to do some work on it today.)

And then there's the question of those sleeves...

Would a winter dress have had long sleeves in 1939?  Probably, right?  Of course, once it's dressed up with hat, gloves and mink stole -- oh, didn't I tell you? -- I think she'll look more like Norma Shearer in The Women than Kelly McGillis in Witness.  Cross your fingers.

Readers, that's all for today.  I hope your sewing projects are proceeding apace and you're staying warm -- or comfortably cool, as the case may be.

What are you thoughts about long-sleeve dresses with high necklines?  Too modest for these sexy times?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. The dress is coming along fabulously! I'm sure Cathy will love it. I love the pattern and texture of it. I've had to drop the waist for modern dress but for vintage dress I've noticed I've had to raise it a bit. No biggie. I like your quick fix so I may use that from on.

  2. I can't really tell from your photo, but yours looks longer than the drawing on the pattern, no? I think the length will determine whether you look Mennonite. The ladies on the pattern envelope look a little more daring with the skirt that ends just below the knee.

  3. I hope you know what you are doing by feeding Debi's obsession with 1940. It was very generous of you to part with the pattern. I think the dress will not look Menonite with the right styling. It looks lovely so far. I'll be sewing a coat for my labrador this weekend. It is not really exciting, but it will help keep her warm. I'm sure Willy would approve.

  4. Ooh, a plot twist! I didn't see that coming! Lucky Debi! And lucky you for receiving that lovely pattern. And lucky Cathy, too! This is an exciting episode.

    The peachy pink fabric is perfect! What a deal! I believe the long-sleeved, modest look of this dress suits the time period perfectly. I agree with Suzanne that it could be a bit shorter.

    My sewing is indeed proceeding apace, thank you, as I'm almost finished my winter coat, remarkably in time to wear it while we still have winter. Happy Friday to you!

  5. The extent to which long sleeves on dresses have fallen out of favor is quite amazing. Yes, historically speaking I think it's safe to say that winter clothing would generally have had long sleeves! I urge you to do the proper 1939 thing and put long sleeves on your winter day dress. I'm cutting out a long-sleeved wool DuBarry pattern from 1942 today!

  6. I personally LOVE the long sleeves! I've wanted a long-sleeved dress for a while now, so I'd love to live vicariously through your creation :) I think they add such elegance that we just don't get enough of today...go all out!

  7. The dress is coming out fabulously! I love almost everything vintage so I say that I like long sleeves with high necklines-very vintage. I made a strapless vintage dress that I put on If you want to check it out, the link is: .

    Oh, and I'm working on a black, button down man's shirt with pin-tucked epaulets, cuffs, and collar.

    I'm almost done with the shirt. What's left to do is to attach the cuffs, sew the buttonholes, sew the hem, and sew on the buttons.

    I originally wanted to add beaded panes on the front of the shirt that I tambour beaded myself but I decided to add the panes to another shirt I'll make in the future.

    Anyway, keep up the great work Peter!! :)

  8. Having seen past Cathy photo shoots, there is no risk of the dress looking too Mennonite modest. First, I doubt the dress length will compare. Also, Cathy will have the hair, shoes makeup and accessories to look like 1939.

    When I think Mennonite, I also think of black stockings with tennis shoes or black lace-up walking shoes. Not Cathy's style!

  9. Long sleeves, YES!
    The dress looks absolutely WONDERFUL!

  10. Modest or not is all attitude and accessories. With heels and a becoming hairstyle, Cathy will look great and be warm in long sleeves.

  11. I think the plastron will give the bodice some visual interest and shaping that Menonite attire lacks. Plus shoes, hair, makeup and accessories will make the difference even if it is a bit buttoned up for Cathy. And if this weather continues, she'll be happy for the sleeves.

  12. I see what you mean with the sleeves. Maybe a three quarter sleeve would give you the coverage without looking too buttoned up?

  13. Do you realize how hard it is to *find* long sleeve dress patterns? Most likely, it was part of the Fall/Winter lineup. If it's cold outside, by all means, we need long sleeves! I end up creating long sleeve pattern pieces for the girls, because I *want* them in long sleeves when the weather is cold. Even on Sundays. Even if they're wearing heavy coats. To me, the sleeve or sleevelessness are more a matter of function over style!

  14. Go for the long sleeves. I really think after the mid nineties, that clothing manufacturers and designers quit putting in any sleeves because it's easier and cheaper than putting in an inset sleeve. Then there is also that spaghetti strap stuff...don't get me started.

  15. Awe. You're a dear, sweet, darling man for giving Debi that pattern. I can't wait to see what you get in exchange! It better be good! :-D

  16. Fashion likes to swing to extremes. Since modesty in fashion seems to be dead, it's probably a good time for it to spring back to life via long sleeves and high necklines.

    On the other hand, I do think that the lack of sleeves in ready-to-wear clothing is part of a conspiracy. They get to charge the same price for a dress w/ less fabric and construction steps, don't have to fuss with making sleeves fit, and get to sell another garment or two in the way of layering tees or cardigans/jackets so that we can have some arm coverage to protect from freezing temps.

    1. Oh, the second part of your comment made me think of my late grandma! She always said this about three-quarter length sleeves. Thanks for the chuckle and a nice memory of her!

  17. I love Sondra's comment! I think there is a slight chance of tooooo much pinky-peach plaid, but with accessories and great shoes, I think it could work.

    If I'm brave, I'll start construction on a coat (my first!) this weekend. If I chicken out, I have two skirts I want to make. Just in time for the "warm" weather next week.

  18. I am not sure about the fabric, however, I have said that before and you have changed my mind when the item has been completed. I like 3/4 length sleeves because I do wear jewelry, but I also love long sleeves as well.

  19. Short sleeves, no question, perhaps with a nice little decorative (scalloped?) cuff.

  20. Oh my, that fabric is beautiful, particularly in the close-up shot.

    I am ever envious of the great stuff for sale so cheaply in your neck of the woods.

    I say full length sleeves are best for this dress and period, as well. You know Cathy better than anyone, she can pull this off!


  21. Great drape to the dress. Maybe 3/4 sleeves. And my Grandmother's cousin was Norma Shearer. That was her real name, and she came from Montreal, of Scottish descent (shearing sheep). I have the nose, and some of the look, despite a few (LOL) extra lbs. that jumped on board during 2 bouts of bronchitis of late (sigh). Cathie, in Quebec.

  22. Peter, you ARE a wonderful person! I am SO HAPPY! I will make the McCall pattern in all it's glory!!!! Can't wait to see what you do with your patterns!

  23. I always wondered how the local Chabad/Lubavitch women survived our hot summer days with dresses to mid-calf, tights, sleeves to at least the elbow if not to cover the wrist and collars that cover the collarbones... AND a wig too. I could never do that through our summers!

  24. I think small shoulder pads will keep the dress out of Mennonite territory. Not big scary 40s or 80s pads. Love the material!

  25. Ooh, I love this in that lovely pink fabric! Gorgeous! Your sleeves look a bit narrower than the traditional Amish/Mennonite look, and you wouldn't see a collar or a placket on their dresses, so I think you're safe. However, the boatneck, plain salmon-colored dress that I made last year thinking it would look cute and summery looks just like a dress that I later saw on my dad's Amish neighbor. :)


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