Friday, July 07, 2017

Vintage 1950's Dress - Simplicity 4560 - and Crinoline

Simplicity 4560

Mom circa 1959
I am attending a bridal shower this weekend that has a 1950's garden party theme.  I love the idea of a vintage clothing theme and set out to find a dress to make.  I was inspired by this pic of my Mom from 1959.  My mom has a stash of original patterns from various eras and I chose the above Simplicity 4560 pattern to make.  It was even in my size!  This pattern only makes the one style dress but it is sized with separate pattern pieces for short, medium and tall. If you are here about the crinoline you can skip all the learning curve and head straight to the
Crinoline Directions.
Simplicity 4560 with a crinoline
This was a simple dress to make, but there are some changes I would do if I were to make it again. I made the tall version (rated for 5'7" and up) but I wish I would still have added one more inch to the length of the bodice (I am 5'7").  Rather than using the arm and neck facings, I lined the bodice using this method.  That way I was able to use the lining as my muslin.  Even though the darts seemed to be correctly placed on the muslin/lining, the front darts seems to run a bit too high on the finished fashion fabric.  I'm not sure why that happened but it is something to be aware of in future.  The biggest change I would make is to the skirt.  The skirt is made of three panels that combine for a 96" skirt; a short one across the front and two 35" panels that run from roughly the front of the hips to the centre back.  I'm sure the pattern was drafted this way to accomodate 36" wide fabric that was so common back in the day.  This means there are no side seams on the skirt.  I think the skirt would look just about as full if you used two 45" panels (45" wide fabric) and then moved the zip to the side.  This would also make getting dressed much easier.  Finally, I used a standard zipper (which is what the pattern calls for) because I couldn't find an invisible zip in an appropriate colour.  I much prefer invisible zips, and in fact that would be a necessity if I were to move the zip to the side.  The pattern calls for using seam binding on the waist seam.  The pattern says this is to add strength to that seam and prevent stretching.  I debated whether or not I needed this but decided to go with it.  I'm glad I did because it is such a form fitting bodice and I wouldn't want to experience a wardrobe malfunction.  It also makes for a much neater inside if you chose not to line the bodice.  There is a lot of fabric gathered into that skirt and I can just imagine all the loose thread ends once it's been through the wash if it were left exposed. Having said that, the lining also covers that seam so if you are lining it you can leave off the seam binding - your choice.

Dress without a crinoline
As you can see, the dress really needs a crinoline or petticoat to make it look like a 1950's dress.  In some ways this is good because I can wear it on its own as a current sundress.  The crinoline was a bit of an ordeal, but I finally got through it.  After making my first one, I found it was totally inapropriate and so I tore it apart and redesigned it.  Then I went on to make another for my daughter.  I will share some of the lessons learned.
#2 - my second crinoline
So what are the lessons learned making a crinoline?  Well the first one is that not all crinolines are created the same.  It is important to choose a pattern appropriate to your material, and that you are choosing a pattern that will give the silhouette you are looking for.  All over the internet there are tutorials telling you to use miles of crinoline in your bottom tier.  There was one that has a finished hem of 48 yards!  The first pattern I was following called for 8 yards around the hem, but as I was seeing so many patterns that called for more I decided to go with 12 meters (14 yards).  At the fabric store I was about to buy tulle when the salesperson showed me a product that's actually called crinoline.  It is a harder plastic type of fabric.  Ok, stiffer is better, right?  One of the blogs did mention that a crinoline should stand up by itself...  Then I spend an entire day fighting with gathering 12 meters of fabric.  I tried basting but the thread would break on me while pulling the basting thread, probably because the crinoline fabric is so stiff.  Then I threaded my machine with upholstery thread in the needle but with standard thread in the bobbin it kept catching and the crinoline would tear.  Then I pulled out my old sewing machine with a ruffler attachment, but I couldn't get the appropriate 2-to-1 ratio.  I ended up with a 3-to-1 ratio and thought "good enough".  Wrong again.  The 2-to-1 ratio between tiers is important for the final shape of the crinoline.  Let's just say that by the time I was finished (after about a week's worth of work), all of the above combined into what looked like something I would use to go square dancing (sorry, no pics).  So I put it aside for a week to think about it, tore it apart and started over. I am nothing if not determined.

#3 - my daughter's crinoline
Since I was using a very stiff crinoline fabric (stiffer than tulle), and because I had cut my crinoline fabric lengwise into 3 meter strips, I ended up joining the strips together into one long length and then cutting to make my bottom tier 4 meters, the middle tier 2 meters, and the top tier a little over 1 meter - my hip measurement plus 4" or 5" for ease.(45" - the width of a standard bolt of fabric). After the catastrophe of gathering the first crinoline, I did a lot of hand work with the second.  I used the upholstery thread to hand baste and gather, and then hand basted that to the next tier instead of using pins.  Needless to say this was still a very lengthy project.  By the time I got to the third crinoline, I had figured out how to successfully gather it by machine and had cut my time down to six hours (granted, I already had the bottoms bound in the satin ribbon).  Also, I used cotton broadcloth for the top tier and waistband instead of just for the waistband.  So without further ado, here is how I will make my next crinoline:

Crinoline Directions

These will be very basic instructions, and material amounts are gauged to make a crinoline that will fit me - 5'7" tall with 41" hips.  Your mileage may vary.  I will try to answer any questions if I can in the comments.  I may try to update with some pics if necessary.  I am not an authority on crinolines, I just found what worked for me.  The important thing to getting a pleasing silhouette with your crinoline is the ratio between tiers; 2-to-1. For a fuller crinoline, add more yardage but keep your ratios between tiers the same.  You can probably add more tiers for a longer (such as floor length) crinoline.

Materials to make a 27" long crinoline:

  • 1.4 meters or 1 1/2 yards of stiff crinoline fabric
  • .6 meter or 5/8 yard cotton broadcloth
  • 7 meters or 8 yards 1" satin ribbon
  • 1" wide elastic
  • Upholstery thread for gathering

  1. Cut the crinoline across the 45" width into six 9" strips.  NOTE:  in hindsight I'm not sure if the crinoline was 60" wide, in which case you will need to do the math for fabric yardage requirements
  2. Sew two strips and four strips respectively together into tubes.  To join the strips, butt the short edges together and overlap by 3/8".  The pieces will lay flat with no seam allowance to stick out.  Sew with a coverstitch or sew a double seam.
  3. Fold the ribbon in half lengthwise and press.  Encase the bottom edge of both crinoline tiers with the ribbon and stitch in place close to the open edge of the ribbon.
  4. Mark top and bottom of the middle tier and the top (unbound edge) of the bottom tier into four equal sections.
  5. Sew on the gathering thread.  Using a wide zigzag stitch, sew over top of a length of upholstery thread to the top edge of both tiers, being sure not to catch it in the stitches.  The zigzag stitches create a channel for the upholstery thread to pull through.  Stop the machine at each of the four markings and cut the upholstery thread, leaving a tail.  Leaving the needle in the fabric, lift the pressure foot and place a new length of upholstery thread centred under the pressure foot (with a tail behind).  Repeat for all sections.
  6. Pin the top of the bottom tier to the satin bottom of the middle tier, matching the four markings and overlapping the crinoline over the satin.  Find the centre of each section of the bottom tier and pin to the centre of the middle tier.  Repeat finding the centre between pins until there are pins every 1-2 inches.
  7. Holding one end of a single piece of upholstery thread in each hand (so as not to pull it out), pull to gather the bottom tier.  The pins will help it stay in place and will simplify evenly spreading out the gathers.  Baste the bottom tier to the top tier and coverstitch OR sew a double seam. 
  8. Cut the top tier broadcloth 45" wide by 21" long and fold in half lengthwise.  Press.
  9. Sew side edges to form a tube.
  10. Fold back in half lengthwise (so it is a double thickness tube), wrong sides together.  Sew an elastic channel at the folded edge, leaving an opening to insert the elastic.
  11.  Mark the bottom edge of the top tier into four sections.
  12. Repeat step 6, except rather than overlapping the seam, join the right sides together as a standard seam.  Sew a 5/8" seam.  Press the top tier and seam towards the top.
  13. Fold under a 5/8" seam allowance o the opposite side of the top tier.  Pin over the first seam to encase it.  Topstitch, leaving an opening to insert the elastic.
  14. Insert the elastic, sew together the ends and topstitch the opening closed.
And that's it!  Even with all the little tricks my final crinoline took me a good six hours, but that's much better than the 40 or so hours I sank into the first one.  Please post a pic or a link to yours if you make one!




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