Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dressed. An adventure with a happy ending.

My husband's aunt had a difficult job quite recently. Her very elderly and terminally ill mother- in -law, resident in Detroit, Michigan, USA made her promise,  not to dispose of any of household goods by a garage sale, estate sale, or anything similar. My aunt and her husband (an only child) were to ship the entire contents of the house back to Australia on her demise,  and to distribute the goods amongst family members. This lady had been living in the house since she was married, some 60 years previously, and whilst working at department store Hudsons, had collected an amazingly large assortment of everything one could think of- much of it still in original wrappings. It is fortunate that my uncle in law (this is getting confusing!) runs a business involving importing things from the United States, or this exacting job would have been even more complicated.
This is how my daughters obtained, between them, 5 sets of beautiful quality, 50's cotton sheets, and several sets of thick, fluffy, vintage printed and tiny (by today's standards) towels for their shared flat. They had to decline further items, or would have a flat full of vintage china, bric a brac and soft furnishings and no room for anything else. They like vintage, but not as a 100% decorating theme.(They also scored a few items of beautiful vintage clothing)
I don't need any more sheets, but after rashly commenting  in the hearing of my aunt-in-law, on the appeal of some really wide floral border printing and tiny rosebuds, ended up with several sheets with which I was to make something to wear.

This dress was inspired by a 19th century petticoat my daughter and I saw at the"Undressed" Undercover exhibition at the Queensland Museum.  The original garment was gathered with fine rouleux cords, acting as drawstrings in the approximate spacing I have reproduced on the dress. What particularly appealed to us was the negative spacing between the pairs of narrow gathering cords, with a clear difference between the front and back. Shirred sundresses are ubiquitous at the moment, but these details make the dress subtly different and more flattering.

I prepared the sheet by holding it up to my daughter to get feedback on the desired neckline depth , waist placement and finished length, then snipped and tore across to have a straight grain, placing the most densely printed part of the border print at the hem. Fortunately for me, the fold over finish of the sheet was on the grain. The dress is a single width of 1950"s standard "twin" or double bed. This is a little less wide than standard double bed width today.

I used a rolled hem foot for the top edge, which worked very nicely, and I was suitably appreciative of the industrial revolution as I did this, thinking of how tedious several metres of hand rolling must have been when this was the only option.
I then applied shirring elastic in pairs, using the bridging stitch as shown in this earlier post.

I placed the shirring so that the wide spacing allowed for the bust, and closer spacing for the lower ribs, to just above the waist. At the back, the spacing is even throughout, although the pairs, then negative space pattern is maintained.

The shirring was adjusted to have more gathers at the front and back than at the sides, then the single seam was sewn as a french seam under the arm. I then added 3 narrow straps, made from the plain white part of the sheet,attached about 5mm apart at the bodice, then joined at the shoulder,before being fitted on my daughter before cutting to length and attaching at the back.
The dress was very simple to make, and I think using the different spacing and a shoulder strap variation distinguishes it from the mass market shirred dresses owned by nearly every teenage girl in our district.

The hem is the original top folded edge of the sheet.
My daughter is quite happy with this dress, and whilst hoping that her distant relative would have been pleased with the use of this pretty sheet, I am personally planning not to leave disposal of my personal collections to be a burden to someone else. Sewing from stash is my continuing mantra...if only I can stick to it.


Sew, Jean Margaret said...

Such a pretty dress and a wonderful use of a vintage sheet. Just beautiful.

cidell said...

What an incredibly touching way to keep her items in use. And, that they didn't end up on ebay or such.

badmomgoodmom said...

I've helped both my mom and my dad (divorced, 2 separate households) downsize in the past 2 years. It's a daunting task and I think more people should share your foresight.

However, what a score! I'm so impressed by the higher quality of old linens and towels compared to what is sold today at the same type of department stores. I don't mean the super high-end boutiques but the Hudson's and JCPenny's (high street) type of stores.

My mom's 30+ year-old JCPenny towels are nicer than anything I've been able to buy recently, so they are my go-to towels.

The old sheets don't have the 'no-iron' finish that irritates my skin.

fabric epiphanies said...

That is a really pretty dress. What a great way to use the vintage sheets.

Your daughters are flagging now! My daughter is talking about doing this next year. I am not looking forward to having her move out.

katherine h said...

Gorgeous scenery in your photos of this lovely, summery dress.

Sewtime said...

Lovely dress and great use of the sheet. Your sewing is so inspiring!

Summer Flies said...

I love how your daughters model the beautiful clothes you make them. I love the print and even in the photos you can see the quality of that sheet. A nice story.

colesworth said...

So Pretty! I am about to embark on my first project with shirring. I was trying to decide if I should do the shirring elastic bobbin or the burdastyle suggested way (zig zag over one row). I don't have a bridging stitch, but I can see some advantages in the zigzagging over now - thanks for linking back to the shirring!

Carol said...

What a lovely and unique way to keep family heirlooms in use. A beautiful dress with a lovely story!

Sharon said...

This dress looks so fresh and cool and those sheets sounds amazing.

liza jane said...

Oh wow, that does sound like a difficult job. I don't see anything wrong with giving stuff away to thrift stores and such. It is just stuff! But I do love the use for this particular sheet. The spacing of the gathering is very flattering. It almost makes me think my thirty-something self could get away with wearing a shirred dress. And I swear we had those same sheets when I was growing up. They were a hand me down from my grandmother.

Joy said...

What a fascinating story! My sister-in-law recently made summer dress for my girls and hers (6 girls) out of inherited pillowcases - in a far less complicated story. I applaud your goal to use your fabric instead of complicatingly bequeathing it.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post and a lovely dress. Thanks for sharing the construction details.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post and a lovely dress on your daughter. Thanks for sharing the thoughtful construction details. This is a great use of the vintage gift.