Finished: An Ethically Produced 1940s Gingham Dress

1940s organic gingham dress

Outfit Details

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

1940s ethically produced dress

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.

1940s ethically produced dress

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.

1940s ethically produced dress

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.

1940s ethically produced dress

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!

1940s ethically produced dress

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.

1940s ethically produced dress

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!

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

37 Comments

    • Thank you Katie! I’m not sure I’ll do it for every piece (there’s too many lovely fabrics out there!) but I will, as I have done in the past, try and stick to natural fibres as much as possible. xx

  1. picnic perfect! love those buttons and trims – using the 2 sizes of gingham was inspired ;o)

    • Thank you Colette! I’m so glad I went for the two sizes of gingham now, they create such an interesting effect. xx

  2. Amazing look! You’ve done a great job illustrating how ethical fashion doesn’t have to be boring. The different scale ginghams look beautiful together, and I love the buttons down the back.

    • Thank you Jessica! Yep, absolutely ethical doesn’t need to be boring and it also doesn’t need to be a chore or cost more. The fabric was so reasonably priced and was so easy to obtain. xx

  3. Gingham is always my favourite, and you’ve put this frock together beautifully! It’s the perfect way to show off those lovely contrasting bias checks. I think that it’s amazing how you’ve managed to make it organic and ethically. I do think that it’s not always easy to do, so kudos to you Cate!

    xox,
    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    • Thank you Bonita! I was actually surprised at how easy it was to find such pretty organic fabric. I think the biggest problem is that people just don’t realise it’s out there. I will definitely be championing it in the future though. xx

  4. I feel like this post should have had a fanfare announcement! Once again, you have created something incredible. The attention to detail is second to none. I love the setting for these photos to, and the little wicker basket. Very cheery and summer on this rather gloomy autumn morning.

    This might be a silly question but in terms of the thread you had to buy being polyester, can you not get ethically made polyester? Or is there something inherent in how it’s made that’s unethical?
    You went to such lengths to get it so ethical, I’m really impressed.

    • Thank you Sarah! The setting was actually a farm just down the road from me that has such an American prairie farm feel about it. I thought it was perfect for this dress.

      You can get recycled polyester fabric but there’s a lot of arguments around it and I personally wouldn’t use it as I don’t like to use polyester if I can help it. The main issue is that polyester as a fibre is not environmentally friendly as, in basic terms, it’s essentially plastic. So, every time you wash something that’s made of polyester, micro fibres of plastic are washed away in the water and into the sea. Polyester also doesn’t biodegrade. Not only that, the process of making polyester is not environmentally friendly as more than 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year. It’s just not sustainable. Sorry, I could go on for days! xx

      • Thank you for such a comprehensive answer to my question, I really appreciate you taking the time to explain it to me! This certainly raises such a lot of other issues doesn’t it, for example I suppose then ideally then we shouldn’t even be wearing vintage polyester if it’s affecting the oceans. Another layer of complexity.

        • Oh yes, definitely, although as with all fabrics, polyester of the 60s and 70s was better quality than today’s cheap mass produced stuff. If you compare a polyester garment that you could buy in Primark today to a similar garment from the 70s you’ll see a vast difference in the quality of them. Cheap clothing today isn’t designed to last and after a couple of washes they tend to look old, whereas you can wash a 1970s polyester garment over and over again and it still looks good.

          Oh, and of course you also have nylon too, a classic fabric from the 50s and 60s, which is also made of plastic. Again, though, the original stuff is much better quality. Basically the majority of man-made fabrics are not good for the environment, but then even cheap cotton is made in a harmful way today. The problem is fast fashion and will continue to be unless the consumer becomes more aware. As long as companies like Primark, H&M and others (Zara is one of the worst!) churn out cheap clothing in mass at an insanely alarming rate then things will never change. It’s all about supply and demand.

          Sorry, I’m going to shut up now! xx

  5. wonderful – the mix of ginghams really gives it an extra lift and the detailing is beautifully thought out

    • Thank you Eimear! I think the 1930s has had a big influence on me with detailing, I can’t help but add something extra.xx

  6. How utterly lovely. The colour is gorgeous, and I love the contrasting ginghams. I think I’d be layering and stretching it as far into autumn as possible! Kx

    • Thank you Karen! Yes, I would too if I wore cardigans but for some reason I just don’t get on with them. I’m thinking about making a navy unlined jacket to wear with it though, although that probably won’t happen until next year now! xx

  7. What a perfect dress. Red is my favourite colour for gingham! I love how you combined the two sizes and your attention to detail is just fantastic. I love those white buttons, the pattern of which I could just make out by enlarging the image on my phone. I have some similar buttons in my stash. The red buckle and white lacy trim are such clever touches! xxx

    • Thank you Ann! Yes, red gingham is definitely my favourite too. It’s got that country girl feel about it and I’m a girl from the country! xx

  8. Wow Cate, this is my favorite of your dresses, I think! I love how it could be 1930s or 1940s, and using 2 sizes of checks together is brilliant! I wouldn’t have thought of it, but now I’ll keep that idea on my radar. Love the pattern matching and the white buttons down the back and all the details. It looks wearable and comfy. It’s very becoming on you too!

    ~Kristen, Verity Vintage Studio

    • Oh, thank you Kristen, you’re very kind. It really is so wearable, I just know it’s going to be a staple in the hot weather next summer. I’m so glad I have a few sleeveless dresses now, I really was lacking in them and now I ave three! xx

    • Thank you! I’m defintiely going to try and make more pieces that are ethically made, whether that’s using vintage fabric, fabric I already own or organic stuff. xx

  9. How can I like this 10 more times?! Oh my I love this dress so much! My favorite hands down of anything you have ever made. The back is freaking adorable and the gingham was such a good choice. I would seriously buy this in 10 different colours if it existed 🙂

    • Aw, thank you Liz, that’s so sweet! I definitely think I’ll need to make another version of it at some point, perhaps in stripe or large check. There’s so many choices! xx

    • Thank you! I love how so many details were used in this period. Modern fashion is so boring in comparison! xx

  10. This dress looks absolutely gorgeous on you! I’ve only very rarely bought clothing new over the last decade or so and used to strictly only wear natural fibers. I didn’t allow man made stuff into my wardrobe until I started wearing vintage. You’ve made me think about all of that again. Most of my recent and current projects have been made from natural fibers but I couldn’t help ordering a rayon crepe fabric for a blouse I plan to make since it will have such a lovely drape to it.

    • Aw, thank you Kate! I very, very rarely buy anything new, not just clothing but also home furnishing stuff. Yes, I buy fabric and yarn and yes, sometimes it isn’t 100% natural fibres, however, I am making the item myself or paying a crafter or local trades person to make it for me. This is better than buying mass-produced stuff in itself.

      I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much about buying rayon crepe. Yes the environmental impact is pretty big, but you are making it yourself. You can’t be perfect 100% of the time, especially when there’s pretty fabric involved! 🙂 xx

  11. This is a super dress. The different sized ginghams work so well and I love the back view with all those white buttons. I did wonder what it was like to get on and off so thanks for covering that! I’m very impressed at how ethically made it is, especially as that isn’t always easy.

    • Thank you Kate-Em! It was actually quite a pain to try and fit the mock up by myself as there were no buttons down the back. I just had to try and pin it in place and hope for the best. Thankfully it all seemed to work out okay but there was a lot of twisting myself up in knots just to get a pin in! xx

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