The inevitable return to work (sigh), other domestic duties and a shoulder injury have temporarily prevented me from any recent sewing pursuits. However, my mind has been busy with plenty of visions which are probably far too ambitious and will remain far more brilliant and glamorous in my head than they ever will in reality. This is probably owed, in part, to me looking more like one of those chic women on the front of retro pattern envelopes, with the impossible waist and charming allure and poise, than the real me. I have set these visions aside, however, for a more practical challenge, which started off concentrating on one thing (bound buttonholes) and has landed up in the territory of another equally scary topic.
My love for collecting the Australian Home Journal is largely due to the fact that each monthly issue came with free patterns – you can still find them with patterns intact. Some of the illustrations are just to die for, and I now have quite a substantial stash of potential projects, all cocooned in the wonderful historical Australian housewife context that is the magazine. But, because of one factor, they are all too tantalizing close, yet oh so beyond my reach: They aren’t my size.
Until the late 50’s or early 60’s the AHJ only issued these free patterns in one size, each month – the “average 36 inch figure”. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there doesn’t seem to be anything average about this figure! 36inch bust is, I think, quite substantial (particularly when viewed from my vantage point!), but when you combine this with the accompanying waist and hip measurements – which I might add were not written down anywhere (I had to consult a 1952 edition) – whoa! Was this really the way women were shaped back then? Or are these measurements factoring in some sort of corset/torture device that got them to the desired size? Either way, it seems I am not far off the almost the average 36inch bust figure, except for the crucial bust bit, which is severely lacking. Sigh.
The construction instructions for these AHJ patterns are, generally, quite hilarious in their vague-ness and lack of diagrams, but when it comes to their advice on sizing, it’s particularly laughable. Their suggestion is to add or subtract, using strips of paper, to the side seams until the desired size is reached. Well, its’ going to take a hell of a lot more than that to get it fitting me. I’m still not sure whether it’s even possible.
All the advice in blogs, tutorials and books tell me I shouldn’t even be attempting to reduce a bust line by 6inches. You’re probably screaming something similar to me right as you read this. Logically, I agree. But emotionally, I feel like there MUST be a way I can get these patterns to fit me, dammit!
Enter AHJ pattern No. 7641 from, September 1, 1950. My original reasons for choosing this pattern were because of the numerous buttonholes – I need to practice making bound buttonholes (I have chronic bound-buttonhole-a-phobia). Also, it looked like a relatively comfortable ‘everyday’ summer dress that was practical; sun smart with its sleeves and collar, and useful with its big pockets. Plus, I have so much summer cotton fabric in my stash.
But Frock no. 7641 has now turned into my first SBA adjustment guinea pig. It hasn’t been a very enjoyable process, and in retrospect, was probably a bit of a dumb design to start off with. I HATE doing toiles, even though I know that the benefits of getting it right far outweigh the hassle. Even so, it’s still a tiresome, tedious, frustrating exercise, and even now, after all the sweat blood and tears (literally), it’s not a perfect fit. It’s probably just as well that I don’t totally and completely love the design of this dress – if I had been lusting after it too much I think I would have found the process too traumatic and the results too disappointing.
I read lots of blogs and tutorials and looked up some books to see how the whole SBA thing works, including the following:
I managed to confuse myself a little, as each blog/article/chapter I read was slightly different to the previous one. But I do think I understand the concept a little better now. I drew my lines and cut up them, and then overlapped things around 1.5 inches. The problem is, that reduced the length of the bodice pattern A LOT (I’ve had to add length back on). But the biggest thing was getting those damn kimono sleeves right. I don’t know whether they were just super huge to begin with (they don’t look THAT long and baggy in the line drawing), but there was just SO MUCH excess fabric in those sleeves. And while I know that the design is intended for shoulder pads, I still don’t think that accounts for it all. I have basically re-drawn in the kimono style sleeve, taking out HEAPS of excess fabric, and making the curve of the armpit higher. I’m worried now that I’ve completely ruined the line and design of the dress.
I also had to do a similar thing to the back (probably a totally unorthodox thing to do). With the back, instead of making up where the armscye would be and chopping off the kimono part, I ended up extended the line all the way up the kimono sleeve, to eliminate more fabric. This seemed to work OK-ish.
After massive amounts of chopping, sticky taping, toiling and pinning and guessing, I think I’m almost ready to cut into real fabric. I’m still apprehensive. Will I even like the dress? Will the not-so-perfect fit always bug me? Will it look distorted and stupid and obviously home made in the worst sense? Am I simply nothing more than a well-meaning but totally self-deluded butcher of vintage patterns?
Only time will tell.