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Shelter-in-Place Sewing: 1940s Dress From Fitted Sheet

Shelter-in-Place Sewing: 1940s Dress From Fitted Sheet

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Weeks of shelter-in-place have gotten me thinking about other tough times in recent history. The Great Depression and World War II come to mind right away. Creative ladies REALLY had to be resourceful during those times of small budgets, shortages, and rationing! With our fabric stores closed, now seemed to be the perfect time to try a sewing project that ladies from the past actually made! Coming from the WWII era, my chosen pattern emphasized efficient use of fabric, streamlined sewing, and limited use of notions. (Hooray! That’s exactly what I need!) I was thrilled to find a downloadable, 1940s dress pattern in my size and wished-for style on etsy! Check out the shop here!

Although the etsy seller made a few additions, the directions and pattern pieces were very 1943! It definitely took me some time to fully understand some of the directions! The pattern makers seemed to assume you had sewing skills and thus didn’t break the directions down into as many steps as would be explained in a modern pattern. I would have prefered a few more pictures in the tricky bits, but I figured it out eventually. 😉

This is definitely a war-time dress! The pattern pieces are jammed onto the fabric, using as little as possible. Even the seam allowances are smaller than we would normally use today!

After downloading and printing my pattern, I taped the pages together. (I was so grateful for the numbers on each page showing their order!) I taped the pages together and cut out those pattern pieces.

Owing to my long experience with fit issues, I started by making a mock-up bodice out of scrap fabric.

Turns out I needed to take in the side seems of the bodice, increase the armholes a little, and shorten the sleeves. Otherwise, it basically fit… wow!

I was pretty proud of getting that bodice made, though, because look at that bottom diagram! (Wha??)

Yeh, turns out each front bodice piece was made extra wide so that the extra fabric could be turned under and attached to the neckline. In the process, the turned under fabric formed the lower collar and a finished edge to the front of the bodice. (Kinda genius, but I really wished I had pictures and directions to explain that whole process!)

Here’s the inside view of that front bodice piece.

As with my sheet skirt project (found here), tea towel tunic (here), and pillowcase tote (here), I turned to an unorthodox fabric source for the real dress. See all those random seams and ruffled cut edges in the picture? I may have gotten this fabric second-hand, but it sure looks like an old fitted sheet to me! I tend to avoid working with fitted sheets because they are, well, fitted. But this one had already been cut open, so why not? (And besides, my fabric stash is shrinking, and I have to be thrifty! Bet 1940s ladies would have done the same thing…) Fitted Sheet- it’s time to find your true calling!

Here are all my pieces cut out with important details marked in chalk. Chalk marking was one of the more time-consuming steps for this pattern. It took time at the beginning, but made the sewing pretty straightforward. However, I will forgo sewing darts in the sleeves in future and will gather them instead. Although I marked them really carefully this time, I still sewed some darts the wrong size and had to fix them…

I didn’t document the entire sewing process, as I was head-down, following those directions. Taking in the bodice (again!) to improve the fit was the most annoying part, but it worked in the end. Once that was done, making and attaching the skirt was straightforward. As I couldn’t go to the fabric store to pick out buttons, I searched through the vintage buttons that I usually save for special occasions. I found the perfect ones and just the right number too! Thank you, Grandma! 🙂

With gorgeous spring weather forecast all week, I wore the dress on my daily shelter-in-place-approved walk!

I think for future dresses, I will take in the shoulders a tad and make the sleeves a little less poofy. Although a little much for me, 1940s ladies liked a strong shoulder look! The dress did, however, proved to be super comfortable!!

I livened up the black dress with red vintage accessories! The earrings and belt were thrifted, while the enamel strawberry pin (my favorite!) came from an estate sale. I have to say, though, those vintage buttons are one of my favorite elements of the whole look! 🙂

Of course, I had to do some flower spotting! I gotta say, people have really been outdoing themselves with their yards during shelter-in-place! The gorgeous spring weather is bringing on the blooms!!

Hope you all are doing well and are making (and crafting) the best of things! Wishing you some spring!!

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