Finished: 1940s Make Do and Mend Day Dress

1940s make do and mend dress

After a disastrous start I have sorted my camera out (it was on a really weird setting!) and have now managed to get some decent photos of my 1940s make do and mend dress. Why I’ve called it that I’ll explain in a minute, but first I want to tell you about where I took these photos.

On Saturday we headed out to a tiny little village in the back end of nowheresville in the Cotswolds. It was like stepping back in time, it was so quiet, hardly any cars around and really, really pretty. The reason for this trip was a lovely vintage craft fair they were holding in the village hall. After parking the car on the village football pitch we walked down the lane to be greeted by a young chap who asked us if we’d like a complimentary champagne! Of course we couldn’t say no, so were given a ticket each and told to give it into the kitchen when we were ready. Seriously, why don’t all vintage fairs do this?!! It was just so civilised.

After spending a good two hours rummaging, purchasing, eating and, of course, drinking we finally left the fair feeling very satisfied. We then hopped in the car and drove through the village to find a perfect spot to take photographs, which turned out to be a quiet tucked away church. We had a quick look inside and had a sobering moment when we read the names of those who died during the First World War on a plaque opposite the entrance. Five brothers from the village were all killed on the battle fields, Alf, Arthur, Fred, Albert and Walter Souls. We couldn’t help but take a quiet moment of reflection at that point and thank them for what they did for our country.

1940s Couturier sewing pattern

So, why did I call it my Make Do and Mend Dress? Well, because the only thing I actually bought for it was the zip! The beautiful original 1940s pattern was given to me by the aunt of my ex-husband. When we were still together she asked if I wanted some of her old sewing patterns. Expecting to only receive a handful of 1970s and 80s patterns I said yes, thinking I could always pass them on to the charity shop if I didn’t want them. Boy, was I wrong! She had a beautiful collection of 1930s to 1960s patterns in a huge box. I was ecstatic.

Make do and mend dress front view

1940s day dress buttons

I’ve had the fabric, a very drapey crinkle cotton, for years which is a dream to work with. I first bought it way back in the early 1990s when I was first at fashion college. I made a very 90s grunge maxi dress out of it that I wore with either a crop top or just a bra and the obligatory Doc Martins, patent ones I must add!

The buttons were from a tub of buttons my mum gave me ages ago that contained a lot of odds and sods she’d collected during the 1970s and 80s. They’re bright blue dome shaped plastic and I think they really help to accentuate the flowers of the pattern and finish off the neckline.

Make do and mend dress sitting

1940s sunglasses

The gathering on the bustline was the most fiddly part to do. After sewing the centre front seam together I did a tacking stitch down the same line and pulled it to create the gather and make the bodice part the correct length. The pattern, thankfully, had a small guide piece to make sure you got this right. Once I’d moved the gathers so they were evenly distributed I hand sewed a piece of ribbon to the seam to make sure everything stayed in place. Ideally this should’ve been stay tape but as I didn’t have any I just used an old scrap of ribbon that I already had to stick to the make do and mend ethic.

1940s day dress sleeve

1940s hair

The sleeves have a very subtle puff to them which I think works well with this being more of a day dress. I’m thinking of using the pattern again for a more evening type gown, either in black crepe or burgundy velvet (both left over from college), and want to really make something of the sleeves by adding more gathering on the top and creating some sort of stylised cuff.

1940s day dress front seam detail

Another thing I’d want to highlight on the evening dress would be the waist seaming. It really doesn’t show up very well on this busy print but it really is quite stunning. At the front, which you can see above, there’s a downward point in the middle and an upward point either side to create a zigzag effect which sits just under the bust. At the back the waist seam dips right down into a single point just above the derriere.

Make do and mend dress back view

The only part of the entire pattern I actually adjusted was the skirt section. On the original pattern it’s quite straight and is full length, so needed a little bit of tweaking for a day dress. I widened the width of the skirt to match the Anna Sui 1940s style dress I made previously because I thought it was a really flattering style on me.

The length I decided on because I wanted to wear my 1940s style trench coat over the top. I hate seeing a skirt poking out from underneath the hem of a coat, so wanted to make sure this fell to a suitable length to stop it doing this. It’s a little shorter than I’m used to, as I tend to wear a lot of skirts and dresses at mid-calf, but I quite like it on this dress and, besides, 1940s hemlines were definitely shorter due to the fabric rationing.

Chelsea Crew shoes

Make do and mend book

Bizarrely I spotted this make do and mend booklet at the vintage craft fair and just had to buy it. The lady on the stall said that she was really pleased I was having it as I looked like it was meant to be mine. I think she was right, it may come in handy if I need to mend this dress in a few years time!


Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. A lover of all things old, especially the 1930s, seamstress, crocheter, maker of hats and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.


  1. Such a gorgeous dress- you have given me dressmaking goals! I’m about to venture into the wonderful world of 1950s style circle skirts and 1960s mod style shift dresses as they look pretty simple for a beginner like me! I love the way that you have used the Make Do and Mend ethos- and that book looks awesome, I might have to hunt myself down a copy!

    • I’m so glad you’re inspired. Hurrah for more vintage seamstresses! Circle skirts and mod dresses are the perfect choice for a beginner and I’m sure you’ll have no problem making them up but you’re welcome to ask any questions if you get stuck.

  2. That dress is so perfect on you, I love the seam detailing too! I love your shoes too, I sometimes struggle finding shoes that look ‘vintage’, but are good quality and not too high. I recently ordered a pair that seem to tick all the boxes, so fingers crossed! xxx

    • Ooo, where did you order them from? These are from Revival Retro (who I love) and I absolutely love them. I’m absolutely obsessed with lace up shoes like this. I already own three pairs and am thinking about buying another! xxx

  3. That’s a really lovely dress – the waist seaming sounds fascinating. Does the zig-zag make it lie flatter/be less obvious than a regular waist seam, or is it more of a decorative effect?

    • It’s seems like it’s for decorative effect as it leads the eye to the necessary places (!!) as the front two point up towards the bust and the one at the back points down to the derriere. However, it’s also a clever way of getting rid of cumbersome darts on the waist by moving them into the seams. There’s only two very tiny darts on the back of the skirt part, all the others are transferred into the seaming or the gathers. It makes it a very simple dress to sew.

  4. Gorgeous dress, I like the pops of blue in the fabric. You did a great job to make it all without buying anything but a zip. The big box of patterns from the aunt sounds like it would be full of wonders!

    • Oh, it its and there are so many things in there I want to make. So many sewing patterns, so little time!

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