Friday, August 28, 2015

Vintage pattern nostalgia with McCalls 6544

Having learned to sew as a young child means that once in a while I come across a pattern now listed as vintage that I recall making when it was new. I am sure half of those reading know what I mean and the other half will just have to wait a few years to see their current cute styles listed as "vintage" on Etsy (which has a very loose description of vintage).

I am feeling nostalgic this week for all kinds of reasons. Back in Hawaii on vacation and thinking about travel, family and sewing across the years. Nostalgic because I am here with my family and some very good friends, recalling previous trips, and remembering those who aren't with us anymore. A little sad, a little sweet but good memories. I have mentioned before that my parents were not ones for camping or car trips, but a beach house, some palm trees and spending the day swimming in the ocean was their idea of a vacation idyll. I love being a native Californian but Hawaii is my second home, over the years some family members have lived here for extended periods and I have lost count of the number of trips taken over here but it must be around 100. Family vacations, romantic trips, girlfriend getaways, there were times that it took less time to fly to Hawaii and be on the beach than it took to get up to Tahoe for a ski weekend (if you have driven to Tahoe on a Friday night in snowstorm you know what I mean).

So all those vacations photos tucked away somewhere, the funny thing is if I look at them I can recall most every item I sewed, particularly the fabric if not the pattern. One night I was browsing on Etsy and came across a pattern that I knew I had sewn, and even that I had made it twice! So I ordered it and then promptly set it aside for a "sometime sew". A few weeks ago I came across it in my vintage pattern box and figured why not now?

blue batik on me2

I bought this batik fabric last year over here, and while it is a tiny bit too stiff for a dress that is supposed to be a bit drapey but it works and I love the color. Other than shortening I cut it out as is.

McCalls 6544 vintage pattern envelope

Now is my moment to repeat that there are no new patterns - sewn for a long time and seen it all. Recently I saw a few versions of the True Bias Southport dress and noticed it was quite similar to this pattern. What I like about this McCalls pattern (and a lot of older patterns in general) is that they include the pattern pieces to make the armhole and neckline bindings. Another detail I like is the waistline casing is on the inside and the ties are threaded to the outside via buttonholes at the center front.

blue batik front on form

It doesn't have bust darts, what would be bust darts are rotated into gathers at the neckline which is very pretty. And probably would lay better in a softer fabric. I remember the two versions I made were both rayon challis, one royal blue with black flowers and the other was emerald green (love those jewel tones:)

To fit this I added some length in the front bodice and created horizontal bust darts. If I had not done this then the waist casing would have been pulling upwards. So in this instance the neckline gathers become more for style and less for fit. Other fit changes, pinched out 1.5 inches of length in the middle back tapering to zero at the size seams, as I do with almost all McVoguerick patterns.

The back has a pretty neckline and the same gathers there.

blue batik back neckline

Close up of the front neckline. The pattern has a bias binding that is in the same fabric, that is sewn on and then folded. The pattern says to fold, press under and hand stitch inside - which I like to do but I bet on a current pattern this would not go over very well! Hand sewing seems to be minimized which is understandable, but there are times when it gives a nice result. I suppose it could have been finished with topstitching but for a change I like to see a binding without stitching. In a silk it is especially pretty and I think you have more control with hand sewing tiny bindings.

blue batik front neckline

However the best part of this pattern is that there are pattern pieces included for placing the gathers.
Here are the neckline binding pieces, they give the complete pieces, with that nice diagonal seam in the center back. That is one benefit of the single size older patterns, they could and did include all the pieces for bindings, facings etc and didn't have to create one pattern piece that included all the sizes. It certainly makes working with the pattern a lot easier - not having to hunt for your size among all the pieces. Also the printing was bolder - just a tiny thing but it really makes them clearer. This bias neckline has 3/8" seam allowance, which is clearly marked, plus all the notches, front and back, shoulder seams, etc.

blue batik neck band

This is the clever bit, the guide for placement of the gathers. Shown here the piece for the back neckline. You cut it out of paper and then can use it as a guide to place the gathers, then stitch them into place before you apply the neckline binding.

blue batik stitching guide

Here is the paper guide sewn onto the dress back neckline. And the stitching perforations make it easy to pull it away. Now the neckline is gathered nicely and you don't have to fiddle with any gathering stitches, trying to make them fit while applying the bias neckline binding. It is especially nice for the bodice front, as the placement of those gathers is more crucial to the fit over the bust.

blue batik gathering guide

Back view on me

back on me blue batik

Here is the waist tie, made by sewing a casing on the inside, and making a buttonhole on either side of the center front. The fabric tie is sewn to elastic which makes it very comfortable. And of course pockets in the side seams - as any good pattern should have!  Late night sewing means I scrounged around in my button box and came up with a few cards of these plain blue buttons. Matching well enough and just the right size. It pays to accumulate a lot of button cards when they go on sale.

blue batik front closeup tie

Last fit note, once the neckline was finished I basted up the side seams and decided that 80's shaping (in a word - voluminous!) was not right for me now.  I lopped off a lot of circumference by taking it in about 2 inches at each side seam at the upper bodice and a good 5 inches by the time I got to the hem. It would have been a very full skirt otherwise. I think the finished bust was intended to be about 40 inches - way too much fabric for my 2015 eyes but otherwise a timeless pattern with a lot of good details.

blue batik on me 1

Ok that's all for this one - time to hit the beach. By the way I am participating in the #sewphotohop on Instagram  which has been a lot of fun. A great way to find new-to-me sewing fanatics all over the globe. True confession - I am extra happy when I find some new-to-me blogs this way - I really like reading all the extra details that a blog post can provide.

Up next a few more new items that made it into my suitcase, including a lot of Girl Charlee fabrics. I told you I could not resist a tropical novelty print....

Happy Sewing, Beth


  1. Your dress is lovely - the fabric is just gorgeous - I bet it's cool to wear. I had this pattern too and also noticed the similarity of the Southport dress. I agree that there is nothing new really... I worked in the motorcycle industry for about 20 years and I'd see (real) vintage motorcycle engines with "new" technologies like twin cams and twin valves... no it's nearly all been done. I have recently found in second hand shops, patterns from my youth and have snapped them up - one I will make come summer for sure. Thanks for the nostalgic trip!

  2. I grew up in Kailua learning to sew muumuu's and sun dresses in Polynesian prints. I took summer sewing lessons at the Singer store in town and spent my babysitting earnings on fabric. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I love your blue dress. And I love "vintage" one size patterns from the 60's and 70's.

  3. Your words are my thoughts of late. A bit lost in my thoughts from years gone by, family and friends. Thanks for the words. I love your dress and the fabric. It goes to prove whatever old is new again. Your dress is right there in current styles and trends, you look lovely

  4. Funny, I recently went through pictures of my holiday in Hawaii (once in a lifetime for me) and I was wearing two variations of a dress everyone would now recognize as a Sewaholic Cambie. In 1989 ;) What's new? I love your dress and I really like the details in older patterns. Hand stitching a bias binding? Yes, please!

  5. Your dress and fabric choice are just lovely. But I was really caught up by your remarks about patterns. The more things change, the more they remain the same, so to speak. Except the older patterns were better designed and had better facings. I rarely buy new patterns any more. Thanks for always writing a great blog.

  6. Yup. I too have been sewing all my life, and I too am seeing the old patterns returning (although I disliked many of the styles, and still do), and I too keep thinking, like you, that there are no new patterns. Well said!

    And your dress is great. I love the neckline gathering guide--I'm going to use that tip immediately. Thank-you!

  7. Hi. I can totally relate to everything you said except for the living in California. One of my favorite places and trips was the one to Hawaii with my parents. It's is sad to have a loss in the family, but the memories are fantastic. I just got the same fabric this past winter in Hawaii and made up a few items. I love yours, you look like a long cool drink of water (can't remember the saying, but you get the idea)! Also love the "vintage pattern", ha, ha.

  8. I prefer vintage patterns. They seem to be drafted better. Your dress is lovely! Thanks for the tip about 80's dresses being voluminous. Remember those giant shirts with the dropped armholes? I do!

  9. Your dress is really lovely, like you I admire the way the ties come to the front, and suits you so well. The patterns I have from my sewing youth are from an era when size 12 was a 32" bust. I find the cut of old patterns narrower on the shoulders, which suits my body better than the modern patterns that I always have to adjust a lot, and I am lucky enough to be the same size now as I was then so return to the oldies but goodies again and again. However the older patterns do not have the helpful extras that your pattern has, no nice print details, in fact nothing on the pattern at all but punched notches and holes to indicate the pattern piece number and, if you are lucky, the straight grain.

  10. Very jealous of your Hawaii trips. Not a place I have been to - yet! And your dress is very cute. Love the waistband treatment I saw that recently on a RTW dress here.

  11. You are so right, a classic dress with interesting details. How nice that the style is as wearable now as it was when you originally made it. It is so pretty and perfect for your vacation in Hawaii.

  12. I'm glad you wrote about the influence of the tucks, no need for darts, elimination of excess seams. For those of us without such experience, that information is most important. Also, what kind of bra does one wear with this dress?

  13. That's really cool. The dress is lovely and so current. I search vintage pattern sites just to find patterns I sewed in the 70 's and 80's and get so excited when I do find one! Ah nostalgia ! What a feeling !

  14. That's really cool. The dress is lovely and so current. I search vintage pattern sites just to find patterns I sewed in the 70 's and 80's and get so excited when I do find one! Ah nostalgia ! What a feeling !

  15. Very cute frock, perfect for a beach holiday.

    You echoed my thoughts exactly, there is nothing truly new in patterns. Thanks to my mother and grandmothers I have a pattern collection spanning 8 decades (1930s to very early 2000s with a concentration in the 60s, 70s and 80s). So when I see a new pattern out (either Big 4 or indi), I have a hunt and invariably find something that is close enough to use. In some cases almost identical!