Tuesday, June 23, 2015

1950s Avengers Dress

I came home from Costume Con and indulged in a quickie sewing project. Well, quick was a bit of a relative term, but when compared to months-long historical recreations, a few days is nothing. Now, I'm just a teensy bit of an Avengers fan. I had been keeping an eye on some of the themed cotton prints at JoAnn's for a while now, but it wasn't until I spotted this gem that inspiration struck. they finally came up with a print that included Black Widow and Hawkeye along side the other more commonly represented crew. Cue the flailing.
Marvel Avengers Assemble Grid Cotton Fabric

In order to take advantage of the large characters on this, I needed a dress that had a lot of acreage that wasn't frequently interrupted by seams. This McCall's 50s retro wrap dress seemed to fit the need:

Only three pattern pieces, darted in front and back, with back waist and shoulder seams.
Back wraps around to the front for a sheath-and-overskirt look. A: has contrast back and skirt.
Bias tape finishes edges.  Large pieces of fabric with darts for fitting that would be largely
covered in the front by the wrap-around "belt" portion.

A bit of googling shows that it was once Butterick's most popular pattern, but among the modern sewers, the dress is getting a lot of hate. I read everything that I could, especially the details on just what people were hating about it. Poor fit throughout the bodice, insecure fastenings, gaping under the arm, heavy skirts draging the dress off kilter with wear, and so on and so forth. Wow. For once being so popular, people sure did hate this dress. But then I lucked upon a tutorial for re-fitting the dress. It turns out that the pattern was re-drafted when being made up for a modern release, loosing a lot of the fit that made the dress so awesome. Katrina over at Edelweiss Patterns Blog wrote up a comprehensive set of instructions that made huge improvements in the way the dress fits.

This was another one of those patterns that, once drawn out, I kinda of started to ignore the cutting construction details. For starters, I had to get creative with the piecing since I was working with a narrow (45") width fabric. Blue lines show where I extended pieces out for better coverage/security/up-sizing.  Red lines are where I either added additional darts or broke pattern pieces down to be able to cut them from a narrow fabric.  Since the bulk of the front panel gets hidden under the skirts, I wasn't worried about the extra seams.

A nice thing about this print is that no matter which orientation you have the fabric in, somebody is upright.  The dominant image to my eye was the Hulk and I wanted to keep him upright on the bodice and skirt fronts.  This left Black Widow and Hawkeye the upright characters on the skirt back.  Of course, Hawkeye falling to the earth while shooting an arrow straight up might actually be upright, so it's hard to tell.

I flat-lined the front and bodice back with the  Sew Classics Bottomweight Wrinklease in white.  This gave a nice foundation for the bodice pieces, while also ensuring opacity.  I added a few inches to the center front pieces so the finished dress doesn't have quite the open space in the front, which I think that I like.  I wasn't a fan of where the skirt fronts flip back, so the three inches or so of the center front is faced, which serves two purposes. One, the reverse of the fabric is quite obvious and a bit unsightly. Two, I used the same cotton bottom weight as the flat-lining, which added a bit of weight to keep the skirt fronts from flying open.  I also swapped out the button-and-loop closure recommended in the pattern for a set of shoestring ties that wrap back around to the front.  Being able to tighten the under layer means that stress is not put on the closer of the outer layer, so that it lays nicely and doesn't bunch.

Another issue with the dress is that you can't really wear the standard petticoat under this, since the dress is open in the front, and the front bodice piece does not flare out from the waist. And this dress NEEDS a petticoat.  You can't achieve that classic 50's silhouette without one.  Katrina's sew-a-long tutorial had instructions for making a petticoat that separates in the front so that it could be tucked under the overskirt, but I worried that it'd work it's way forward and show. So instead, I chose to build the petticoat into the dress. I cut a second overskirt piece out of my white cotton bottomweight that was a couple inches shorter in length, and did not have the added inches to the center front. The hem was finished with some vintage bias tape and sewn down with several rows of straight stitching in a trapunto style to add a bit of stiffness.  I sandwiched the bottom edge of the upper back piece in between the two layers of skirt, then surged the seam allowance which would then be hidden when the skirt layers hang down. The built-in petticoat is nice because I don't have to worry about tracking down extra pieces, but the cotton did add a bit of weight.  I don't notice it when I'm wearing the dress, but my hanger wasn't happy and I'll have to keep that in mind when packing for travel.

The dress opened up to show the facings on the overskirt, as well as the added petticoat layer.
The front has 3 hook-n-eye closures, but I stitched down a couple of Avengers logo pins in place of buttons.

The back of the skirts ride up just a bit.  I think that the next time I make up this pattern, I need to add more length to the skirt back, taking a bit of it out of the bodice back.  I like the built-in petticoat, but I think I'll look for a light-weight tulle and keep the dress hand-wash only.  And even though I added more coverage to the armhole, it still falls a bit short in the front.  Easy enough to fix with a neutral colored tank top for now, but I'll have to tweak that for next time.  Because OF COURSE there's going to be a next time.  The dress is comfy and fun to wear, while still dressing it up quite a bit compared to my usual slovenly fashions of knit tees and cargo pants.  I'm actually already plotting another. This time, a fancy party frock. I've got three yards of this synthetic plum taffeta with black flocked floral designs on it that's been languishing in the stash for eons. It's not enough to make a full dress out of, but if I pair that up with a plain black taffeta and do something along the lines of View A, only cutting the upper back piece out of solid black and leave it so that only the over skirt is the decorative bit, it ought to look pretty sharp.  Holiday party dress?


  1. Avengers! *fangirl squeeing* Loving the dress, and thanks for all the tips about using the pattern. I've seen it numerous times and wanted to buy it and try it, but I had no ideas for what to do with it. Looking at you and how awesome you look in that style, I'm getting ideas. :)

    I have never wanted the ability to physically hug people through the internet more. You look so hug-able! *internet hugs*

    Hope Costume Con was fun! :D I had to miss this year, but I'll be there next year.

    1. So much Avengers love in my world right now. I'm due to get new personalized plates for my car this summer, and I'm debating leaving my SLYTHRN behind me for something new. The tutorial I linked was super helpful with the re-shaping. Back to being a fitted dress and not an elaborate preschool art smock. Costume Con was fun, but super busy, as I competed a lot this year. I was waiting for the professional pictures to get released before I wrote up a con report, though. I wondered where you were this year. It's good to hear that you'll be making it to Madison.

    2. I need to see the new Avengers (I know it's good, but I haven't had time; plus, no Tom Hiddleston ;_;). If you do change your plates, let me know. Weird as it is, I love people having creative license plates (this is still one of my favs; http://killpurakat.deviantart.com/art/This-Guy-365408580 ).

      Yeah, I may have to buy that pattern now. Between how nifty you look and having a tutorial to help, it seems silly not to. And it is speaking to me. Something... maid-like, but not... and frilly... Hmm...

      Can't wait to see the CC pics! :) I had an unexpected event back in February that sort of messed with all my con plans (got a ticket AND hotel to the San Diego Comic Con!). Was planning to still attend CC33, but I had nothing done on the costumes I wanted to enter (SDCC requires finished costume pics to enter their masquerade, which I am still working on getting to them). Then I realized the weekend would cost me upwards of $1000 between the hotel and flight. Seemed best to not go and wait for CC34, which is closer (I'll be driving) and whose theme interests me more. :) Plus, I've been working on those costume entries since last year, and I really like them.

      BTW, since I'm attending SDCC, anything you or Mijan would like me to be on the look out for? Or any celebrities you'd like me to get autographs for/harass/stalk?

  2. I can't think of anything I need from SDCC. The celebrity and business side of fandom has never really interested me. I'm more participatory than that. But do let us know how the masquerade goes. I've always been interested in how big events like this handle the competitions. Dawn at Dragon*Con was always a whole other ball game.

    1. Will do. Right now, though, I'm not even sure I'm in it as they haven't gotten back to me (the process is to submit an entry form early, then a picture of the finished or nearly finished costume when you get it done, but not later than June 20th, then they tell you if you are in the masquerade; did all that, but haven't heard back, which is understandable, since they are busy this close to it).

      I'm not really going for the celeb and business stuff, just going to more or less say I went and have fun in costumes. Although the having fun is quickly turning into even more of a panic than usual, as I'm still working on stuff and I drive out to San Diego in less than two weeks. :P Me and my abysmal planning...

      Probably will email you about costume stuff later, once I really have some things to show. :) I'm already looking forward to Arisia and Costume Con 34 next year.