Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Look 6143 Dress

Somehow I've never managed to make a successful version of this basic dress shape: darted bodice, sleeveless, full skirt. 

It's not totally been for lack of trying, but summoning the will to follow the fitting process all the way to a successful conclusion has taken some time.

I have to consider this dress a wearable muslin even yet. This cotton fabric--I really love the print--was originally a duvet cover, and I just have to think it is from the 1940's. I bought the cover for $3 at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store, which seemed like an amazing deal until I realized just how damaged, fragile and off-grain the cotton had become through its many years of service. Aligning all of the motifs wasn't going to be possible due to the warping of the fabric, so I decided to focus on lining up the center front and center back matches across the bodice to the skirt and to not worry about the side seams.

There is a discolored area on the lower front skirt piece. It was impossible to cut a front skirt portion in one piece without damage so I just had to accept that.

The background of the fabric is uncomfortably close to the color of my skin, so the dress looks much cuter with this short-sleeved cropped cardigan than without.

Fitting this dress was motivated by the notion of making one of the versions with the inset yoke and sweetheart neckline. I reasoned that I should work out the fit on the solid bodice pieces and then apply those changes to the yoked bodice pieces--but I haven't gotten that far yet. Just resolving the simplified bodice took three muslins: two unwearable, and this one.

Quite a few New Look patterns (including this one) start at a size 10, which I don't like, knowing that I will be needing to narrow the upper chest width at that size. But working through the fitting of this bodice, I realized that it hardly matters, since I would also need to narrow the size 6 or 8, though less. Now I think that starting with the 10 probably made the upper torso length and depth more appropriate than the 6 or 8 would have been.

So, what did I change? Here's your list:

  • Narrowed the back and front upper chest width 1" per side (total of 2"!) using the method I've shown here on the blog
  • Lowered the front neckline 1 1/4"
  • Made a small FBA of about 3/8" (muslin number one had no FBA, muslin number two had a larger FBA and muslin number 3--this one--had a just-right FBA)
  • Curved the bottom dart to take up a bit more fabric under the bust
  • Shortened the bodice 3/4" at the waist line
  • Made a 1" swayback adjustment to eliminate pooling at the small of the back. The back pattern piece looks truly bizarre with its radical curves to match my back!
  • Graded out to a size 12 at the waistline

Using the instructions from one of my very favorite sewing reference books, Claire Shaeffer's The Complete Book of Sewing Shortcuts, I fully lined the bodice by machine using self-fabric. She provides instructions for sewing the lining without turning the bodice through the straps, which would be quite a struggle with straps as narrow as these.

And to say a little more about this book: it is out of print, but there seem to be a number of used copies available through Amazon for the price of shipping ($3.99). The title is completely erroneous: the content of the book isn't about sewing shortcuts at all. Rather, Shaeffer provides a variety of methods for performing different sewing operations, allowing the intermediate or advanced sewer to choose the method that best suits her preferences or the needs of the particular project. There are no photographs, but the instructions are clear and concise and the basic line drawings help clarify the steps. I find this book much more useful in general sewing than the other, more lavishly photographed and printed, Shaeffer titles on my shelf (High Fashion Sewing Secrets and Bridal Couture, though I do like those and use them occasionally).

By the way, the pattern instructions show finishing the neck and armhole edges with bias binding.

I used the skirt from McCall's 6503, on the grounds that the pattern tissue was all cut out and I liked the way the pleats are arranged. But now I want to try the actual skirt for this dress, as I'm not too fond of the way the pleats are sticking out over my backside. Will report back!

I realize that this dress is not earth-shatteringly gorgeous or unique, but I am pretty excited about it all the same. I have never had a dress like this, since RTW versions of this style all gape and fall off my shoulders. It's not the fault of those dresses or their designers--it's the result of my narrow upper chest. My wedding dress, which I showed in the previous post, is a sleeveless dress with straps that required similar adjustments, but it is an empire-waisted style.

This style should be useful for creating basic dresses that pair well with cardigans. When I try to make a version with sleeves, I will add some width to the shoulder line, as I think it is too cut-in to accommodate a sleeve as it is now.

The great thing about a simple sleeveless dress is that I can shed the cardigan for hot summer evening dances. Then I will be cool and securely covered!


  1. That fabric is a really lovely print, and I can't tell from where I am that the condition is not as good as new. The fit looks great too. The basic bodice is really tricky. I like the famous Emery dress for a basic bodice block, it has back darts which are helpful but I had to increase them almost as far down as the lower back darts. Looks strange but it works.

  2. It actually looks very good. You can't tell from the photos the condition of the fabric, but I do understand what you are talking about. I'll be looking forward to seeing future versions of this dress on you. By the way, thanks for the book review. I have two other Claire schaeffer books that I've loved reading, so I just went purchase this one too - under $4 including shipping, how could I not!!!

  3. Your dress is beautiful. Love the fabric. Fit is fantastic. I'm going to have to look into that book also. Sounds like an invaluable resource.

  4. Your "goldilocks" muslin is gorgeous on you! I see some of your fabric finds are like mine -- I have a thrifted shower curtain waiting to be turned into a dress:) After reading this, I remembered that I had recently bought a copy of this Shaeffer book at a thrift store, but I haven't really sat down and figured out how to use it. I will be remedying that this weekend.

  5. It is very pretty. I love hoe you made it from vintage fabric.

  6. The dress is lovely; any issues with the state of the fabric aren't apparent from a distance! It's a very pretty fabric, by the way, I am all for recycling vintage bedding and curtains wherever possible.
    I am amazed at your list of pattern adjustments, and don't know whether to feel comforted to know that standard patterns don't work for everyone, or dismayed because I will have to work out how to make such adjustments for myself, and I don't know how to do that! After all your changes, the dress looks as though it fits perfectly, so that's great! xxx

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