Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pink and White 1950's Shirtwaist Dresses

Mommy-daughter dresses were a thing in my grandparents generation. I guess they were a thing when I was young, too, but I thought they were ugly and stupid. (Not a terribly hard opinion to have about early to mid 90's fashion. . .) Check out these adorable duos (and a trio) from about thirty years before I was born!
1950's dresses from Pinterest

1960's dresses from pinterest
It was Anne's idea to make Valentine dresses. I told her she could choose any red or pink fabric I had on the shelf and I would sew matching outfits for her and Rose. I recently acquired the Girls Classic Shirtwaist Dress pattern from Sense and Sensibility and wanted to try it out. Anne picked this crisp pink and white cotton that a generous friend gave me for the girls almost two years ago. While I originally intended to make just the two dresses, for the girls, I found that there was enough fabric left over to make a dress for mommy, too. So mommy-daughter dresses it was! (FTR, all 3 dresses, in the pattern sizes 2, 6 and 16, took 4 yards of 55" wide fabric. This pattern is a very thrifty design!) 

I used the e-pattern version so the whole thing was printed out on almost 50 sheets of paper and then taped together. After that I traced each size I needed onto plain white tissue paper. The sizes all seemed to work out well for us although I made a few adjustments that I will go into.

Size 2 dress ~

I made Rose's dress in the smallest size the pattern offers. This translates nicely into a modern 2 or 3T. 

Instead of using the skirt pattern provided I just cut two rectangles of fabric to the dimensions I needed. Generally 1.5 - 2 x the measurement of the edge being gathered to is sufficient for a nice fullness. For this littlest dress I made a narrow hem and machine sewed it into place. The fabric is stiff enough to provide plenty of body at the hem on such a small scale dress. 

To finish it off, I used some vintage cream colored buttons I got from a local antique shop last summer. 
I love her tiny ponytail!

Size 6 dress ~

Anne's dress was made in the size 6. While this worked out fine I think I may go with a size 8 or even 10 in length next time. Her dress came out a little short waisted. She is a tall kid with a long waist. I left off the darts in the back bodice since with the darts sewn in she found the waistline a bit too fitted for comfort. 

Anne wanted short sleeves. I love how these came out! They are so simple. The cuff is made by sewing a wide hem and folding it up. That's it! So easy!

I tried to learn how to make machine buttonholes for the girls dresses. I have a 1 step buttonhole attachment on my machine but practicing with it was not successful. I did at last make a sort of buttonhole with a narrow tight zig zag but next time I will definitely do the buttonholes by hand. 

Anne chose dark pink buttons. She wanted heart shaped buttons but when I told her it would be a few days til I could go to the store to get some she decided to go with what I had on hand. And she loves her finished dress! I'm thrilled to see her so happy with it!

Size 16 dress ~

My dress was made to the largest size included in the pattern. I knew I'd have to make a few adjustments since I am lady sized and not girl sized. The pattern instructions include detailed steps on fitting a toile, or mock up, so I made two mock ups before cutting into the dress fabric.

The position of the front bodice darts was changed and the darts were deepened to accommodate a larger bust-to-waist ratio. I also had to make a narrow upper chest adjustment to get rid of some wrinkles between the shoulder and armpit area. For that I followed the instructions from A Sewing Life, here: Altering for Narrow Chest
Went for a 1960s rather than 1950s hairstyle. Kinda a flop.
I also took off 1/2" at each seam on the back bodice piece only. This brought the side seam into the right position at the side of the body. I needed to deepen the curve of the sleeve heads to get them to set in smoothly. I found the cuffed elbow sleeves not to be fitted enough at the elbow so I took them in with a pleat at the back of the arm and tacked it down by hand. I sewed a button on each sleeve where it was pleated so that it looks intentional. :) 

While the length was okay, I wanted it just a bit longer. I didn't decide to add extra length til the last minute so I just put a waistband on the edge of the bodice. This added about 1/2" or 3/4" to the length. My buttons are amazing pink glass vintage buttons I got at an antique mall last weekend. LOVE THESE BUTTONS!

The skirt is about 90" in circumference. I didn't have enough length in the skirt to make a turned hem so I made a hem facing, just like a facing done in 1860's dresses. This worked out really well and added a lot of body to the hem. For the pictures, Anne and I are both wearing cotton petticoats under our dresses. I don't like the feel of net or tulle crinoline petticoats so the modest amount of fluff a tiered cotton petticoat gives is just fine for us. :) 

It's actually pretty fun to have matching dresses! Not only will these be great for Valentines Day, they will be fabulous throughout spring and into the summer. Bluegrass concerts, old car shows and ice cream socials! I haven't worn vintage style for a really long time and it feels great to get back into it. 

Get everyone to look at the camera at the same time is impossible.

Yes, she has her finger up her nose. . .

This front opening dress is nursing friendly! 


  1. Aw you gals looks so cute! I love the 1860's nod with the facing. I love when historic solutions end up being the way to go! :)


  2. These turned out adorable! I love doing matching dresses with my sister and mom!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!