1940s Ethically Produced Gingham Dress – Made by Me
Vintage Wicker Basket – My mum’s from the 1970s
1930s Straw Hat – Shepton Mallet Flea Market
1940s Style White Shoes – Miss L Fire
Red Drop Earrings – Made by Me
Back in July, after watching the brilliant documentary The True Cost, I went on a hunt for organic, ethically produced fabric that I could use in my projects. I immediately stumbled across the Organic Textile Company based here in the UK and was impressed by their wide selection of interesting fabrics. The ones that caught my eye straight away were the different sized gingham cottons and I quickly ordered a few samples.
When they arrived I instantly fell in love and after doing a quick check in my wardrobe I was shocked to realise that I currently owned just one piece of gingham. It was a big circle skirt dress I made many years ago from an original 1950s pattern and was in a large black and white check. It’s a beautiful dress and on the very odd occasion that I’m in a 1950s mood I do tend to dig it out. However, it definitely wasn’t in fitting with my current style. So, something needed to change.
After winning a competition on the Vintage Sewing Pattern Nerds group on Facebook, where I received a voucher for Vintage4me2 on Etsy, I stumbled across the perfect pattern. Surprisingly it was from 1946, a year that is far later than my normal choice, but I liked it because it had a late 1930s/early 1940s feel to it. You can see it on my Instagram here. When it arrived my mind went into a complete buzz and I knew I wanted to make use of the two sizes of gingham that the Organic Textile Company produced.
I started playing with the samples I’d been sent and very quickly realised that the small one looked really good next to the larger one if it was placed on the bias. It immediately gave the whole thing a more 1930s touch. I then set out to do some research and I found lots of fabulous original 1930s inspiration. My favourite dress had the elements of different directional ginghams, but it also had lovely white trimmings to define certain areas. Yep, that had to be part of the design too.
As this was supposed to be an ethically produced dress I knew the trim either had to be organic/Fairtrade, something I already owned, or something vintage. After a quick rummage in my trimmings box (which is a total mess!) I came across a pretty white cotton broderie anglaise trim that was originally from my mum’s stash that she had way back in the 1970s. It was perfect.
I chose to do just the smallest sections of the dress, the top yoke and side pockets, in bias cut fabric. This was because I didn’t want to fiddle about with the main fit of the dress. Bias cut can throw pattern pieces all over the place if you’re not careful, so cutting a dress on the bias when it actually hasn’t been designed that way can cause problems. I made sure I backed both the top yoke and side pockets with plain white fabric cut on the straight to make sure these didn’t distort.
The white fabric I used, again, was something I already owned and was from my mum. This time, however, it was an old off-cut from a plain duvet cover that she’d use to line a pair of curtains. It’s a trick my mum always uses to make curtains to match bedding she’s bought. It’s a much cheaper way of doing it than buying the duvet and curtains as a set in a shop.
The big white buttons were from my stash of vintage buttons, so keep with the ethically produced theme as they weren’t bought new. They have a lovely Art Deco ribbed effect on them that unfortunately gets lost in the photos. I love how they stand out against against the red gingham.
After much debating I decided to make a bias cut belt to match. Despite stabilising it with straight cut fabric and straight cut interfacing, I’m fully prepared for this to pull out of shape the more I use it, but we’ll see. The buckle is vintage again. I originally bought it to go on the belt for my 1930s white waitress dress but the red was a different tone to the red buttons. Thankfully it was the perfect shade of red for this dress.
The ivory cotton thread I used to sew the dress was some I’d had in my stash for years, so again fell into the whole premise of this dress. However, the one and only thing I bought new for it was the red top stitching thread. Unfortunately it is polyester (grrrr!) but I struggled to find a suitable red organic cotton thread in the tone of the red gingham. It’s annoying that I can’t say this dress is 100% ethically produced, but it comes damn close!
I actually really enjoyed making this dress. I took my time, I made a toile and I tried to match the pattern as much as I could. It’s perfect on the straight sections, such as the bodice and front and back panels, as well as the very tricky button placket. However, it’s not completely spot on where the side panels meet the centre panels. The back is the best view for pattern matching, though, and I was pretty impressed with my work when I saw it in this photo. (Yeah, I’m being positive about my sewing!)
As always, I did loads of hand sewing on it, something I really enjoy. The yoke facing was inserted by hand, as was the under arm facing, and the hem, which is finished with matching white rayon tape, was stitched up entirely by hand.
A total of 13 buttonholes, 11 down the back and 2 on the pockets, were machine sewn (there was no way I was doing all of them by hand!) using the red top-stitching thread. Then each button was hand sewn on with the same thread to add contrast. I only have to open half of the ones down the back to get in and out of it, but boy is that top one a struggle to do by yourself.
I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s a cute, extremely wearable summer dress, that’s also very cool to wear as it’s 100% organic cotton. It’s a shame I got it finished just as it turned colder but hey, I have another dress to look forward to wearing next summer.
Oh and before you go, I highly recommend you check out Christina’s vintage dress that she posted about on her blog, Gussets & Godets, at the end of September. I swear on my life that I hadn’t seen her dress before last week!