Saturday, 24 September 2016

Gertie Shirtwaist Dress

Hi folks!

Finally finished and photographed, it's my last dress of the summer, which actually has lasted a nice long time this year. Unfortunately my trusty photographer has been away, otherwise I'd have had this up a little sooner. Luckily I had a trusty back-up photographer that I called on last weekend, my friend Simon (who is also an artist- you can see his paintings here) was willing to snap me, while my other friend Scott stood in as art director. These fine folks also got me a Cloth House voucher for my birthday which I've just got around to spending - I decided to just treat myself to the prettiest thing I saw rather than try to match to any specific plans and ended up with this lovely, rather structured Japanese cotton. I only got a metre, so think it will have to be a boxy little short-sleeved top.

 These were taken as we were out exploring the Open House Weekend, which is a wonderful opportunity to snoop inside the dwellings of people who live in places of architectural significance. We visited some beautiful self-build properties in Lewisham, designed by the architect Walter Segal, and we discovered this wall when milling around between venues. I was spotted posing by a lot of other architecture enthusiasts, hence my slightly sheepish photos in the shots. Isn't it perfect though? I love that the spices in the mural pick up on the print of the dress.

On to the dress itself, which is the Shirtwaist Dress from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, and has been a bit more of an involved make for me than usual for two reasons:

- I made a bodice muslin, which resulted in a few fitting tweaks (although as I only made the one muslin then plunged in, perhaps I could have refined a bit further).

- I decided to go all out and learn a new technique at the same time, so made my very first set of bound buttonholes! Very time consuming, not super neat, but I reckon worth it. Will hope to improve on my next garment, and I am quite pleased with these even if they do have “character”.

Here are the things I love about this dress:

I think it's really cute from the front and really sets this fabric off well. I had been considering making it shorter for a more modern look, but after wearing it out for the first time I'm a bit reluctant to make any more changes, and I got lots of compliments.

Things I'm not so pleased about:

The back. I have read a few reviews of this dress and how large and poofy the back turned out, hence the bodice muslin to assess how it would work out for me. It didn't look too bad in mock-up, but I decided to add two more rows of shirring (yes, another shirring project! I'll stop now, I promise)  in the hope that would be an easy swayback adjustment. On the actual garment it ended up looking much more voluminous, so I decided to add an inverted pleat at the top of centre back where it attaches to the yoke, which reduces the gathered fabric by approx 4 inches. It looks better, but as there's nothing to tether the pleat at the waist (it just gets distributed into the rows of shirring) there's still a bit too much volume around centre back. I would prefer a more streamlined look and think if I made this again I'd swap in a different dress back – perhaps from the coat dress or the zip-front house dress from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual.

I also find the back skirt seems to curve in under my bottom. I wonder if it's because the dress front is so structured and full, whereas the back is quite voluminous and only supported at the waist by the shirring. Just a theory but I think having the shirring there is allowing my bum to pull the skirt awry, whereas I think with a sturdier waist seam the skirt would skim over and hang a bit better. I could invest in a petticoat to help the skirt stand away from my rear, but realistically I wanted this to be a work dress that I pack in my pannier bag for my cycle commute, and it's hardly practical to stuff a petticoat in as well!

There's a fair bit of handstitching, which I gritted my teeth and bore, having committed to the bound buttonholes already. I'm not sure if I attached the inner yoke in exactly the right place- I was trying to cover as much of the innards as possible and therefore might have stretched them over a wider area, which is causing a little bit of distortion, it's pulling a bit at the back collar as you can see. Annoyingly with handstitching I'd have to undo the whole lot if I wanted to redo any of the seams, so for now I'm just ignoring it.

Other adjustments for my version:

I did a 1” FBA, but perhaps could have done a bit more. Gertie's FBA instructions tell you to add an inch for each cup size over C, but really shouldn't this be 1/2” seeing as you're working on a half-pattern piece? I don't know, I seem to have done a lot of FBAs in my sewing so far but not enough for the knowledge to have really dropped, apparently!

The shoulders were too boxy for my taste, so I redrew the armhole bringing it in on the front and back bodice and yoke. I did have to tweak this a bit on the fly but I think it looks OK. I kept the sleeves the same and hoped for the best. With wear I have noticed a little bit of pulling at the upper chest, so if I made this again I might add a smidgen back into what I scooped out to hopefully sort this. This might also be partially due to my badly handsewn innner yoke as mentioned above.

I redistributed the spacing of the buttonholes when I had a vague thought about having this button all the way up the neck and with a shorter length. I scrapped this idea, but the skirt buttons are a little closer together and end higher than drafted for.

Would I make it again?

As is, I would not. As mentioned I will be looking for a replacement back bodice. I do like the look of the front however. On my mannequin this looked really nice sleeveless, collarless and buttoned all the way up, so I might try a version like that (with the replacement back pieces – I'll let you know what works!). I might also see about a mishmash with the zipfront dress from Gertie Sews Vintage casual, as I think that would be so much cuter with buttons instead of a zip, which looks frumpy to me.

Despite my niggles with this dress, it is still very nice and gets loads of compliments, and I really love the print. I think this will see me into Autumn too, I reckon I can cram those puff sleeves under a cardigan, and the colours are nice for the transition.

What have you been making? Have you switched over to the new season yet?

NorseOtter xx


  1. Your dress is fab, I love the shape and the fabric, the length looks good too. I'm unsure of back poofiness and with m6696 I removed it all, not sure on why the back shirt would curve in?? Maybe adding extra inches on your next one may help?

  2. Hi Lynsey, Sorry for the late response! Thanks for the tip, food for thought for sure. Getting the perfect fit is an never-ending mission!

  3. Your dress is lovely, and the bound buttonholes look great. From memory I think the back of this dress is all one piece (not a separate bodice and skirt), so it would make sense that the back waist doesn't have so much stability. Also, I love the length and wouldn't change it.

    1. Thanks Lynne, it's already had a fair bit of wear since I finished it! yes I think the one-piece back might be to blame for the slightly odd way it hangs on me - I'm not convinced the shirring is great on me either. What's your favourite shirtdress pattern?

  4. Lovely dress! I've never been too sure about whether I like shirtdresses but I love yours! Great buttonholes. I sew mine using my ancient machine just using zigzag and straight stitch which is such a palaver I rather dread it. I too get lots of fitting niggles but the nice thing is that though obvious to us other people usually won't realize.

    1. Thank you Jennifer! I'm quite proud of the buttonholes - they've come out much better than some machine ones I've just done on a newly finished shirt (although I think rushing through is to blame, plus opening them up afterwards is really scary!). Agree about the fitting too, we're always much harder on ourselves than we need to be - the fit is always going to better than anything shop-bought anyway!

  5. I love this! I've made 3 sew over it vintage shirt dresses this year and thinking of at least one more! it's easy to bring in at the back waist by taking in more fabric at the little release pleats. I also want to make one of those shirt waist dress with button bodice, gathered skirt and side zip (I have simplicity 1880 but I might want to change the back bodice from gathered to darts).

    1. Thanks Colesworth! Just checked out your shirtdresses, they're lovely - great choice of prints! Unfortunately this pattern (from Gertie) doesn't have a pleated waist at the back- it's all one piece from the yoke down and the waist is shaped with shirring. I think I have a vintage '70s shirtdress pattern that's quite similar to the Sew Over It one though that I might modify for a more '50s silhouette to get a better fit next time! Have you got any other favourite shirtdress patterns?