Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gertie's Shirtwaist dress

I (Major Moma) sew for fun.  It is not my job, it is my hobby.  I cannot tell you how many people see some thing I have made and then say "you should sell that".  NO.  I don't want this to be my job.  First, then it would be work and not play.  Second, what would people be willing to pay me?  In this day of mass produced cheap fashion, people have gotten used to paying small sums of money for clothes.  Even though my clothes would be custom, there just is not a huge market for handmade.  (Yet... I think there is a great movement going on and a lot of people are realizing buying local and buying custom is worth the extra expense.)

Therefore, I sew for me, my kids, and sometimes for gifts.  But recently I received a special request.  My coworker and friend is going to be in a wedding.  And it is a 'theme' wedding where all the clothes will be late 1930's style.  She is the matron of honor and she could not seem to find a brown (the bride's chosen color) dress that fit the theme. 

Knowing that I sew, she asked me to make her something.  I really like this gal and I decided I will say yes, but only if she agreed to certain conditions.  I thought my conditions were pretty unusual and strict and was pretty sure she would go back to searching for a dress on the Internet as soon as she heard them.

My 5 rules:

  1. FUN:  The dress has to be something I want to sew and will make me smile during the process.  I will not let this be 'work'; it still has to be play.  I have been sewing through Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing and she has a lovely dress that is late 30's, early 40s style.  We picked that one; the Shirtwaist Dress.
  2. TWO dresses:  This is not some ordinary dress.  She will wear this dress in one of her friend's most important moments.  I am not willing to let something go wrong.  So I explained what a muslin is (a practice version of the garment) and that she had a choice.  She could buy plain unbleached cotton and let me practice on that to get the fitting right.  OR sh could buy inexpensive dress fabric and I will practice on a casual version of the dress.  But I warned her, the first dress may not turn out because it is practice.  Then, I will make the real dress that will fit her and I will have the right skills to have it turn out nice.
  3. SHE BUYS all materials:  Sometimes people don't realize how much retail prices are for fabric and notions and thread.  So, I gave her my favorite web sight for fabric purchasing ( and a shopping list.  She bought all the materials, washed and pressed them, and then I got to work.
  4. I get PAID (not a lot) $: This was the hardest part.  I had to figure out what to charge her.  Because she is a friend and I am not a professional seamstress, I did not want to ask for too much.  But, sewing two dresses takes quite a bit of time and I should be compensated.  We decided on $40 for each dress.  If I was a professional, this would be WAY too little.  But I am not, so we thought it was fair.
  5. I get to BLOG about it:  Yea!  I get to tell everyone about this very neat dress.

Practice version

 For the practice, she choose a heavy weight twill in a light blue with brown polka dots.  It was much stiffer than we expected, but really provided excellent body to the dress.

The main skill I had to learn during the practice version was bound buttons.  I have made bound buttons once before, but Gertie's were a bit different.  She calls for a lot of hand sewing in order to increase control and accuracy.  There were actually several instances where hand sewing was called for in the making of the dress.  So, I would pack the partially finished dress around completing the hand sewing in the car, at friend's houses, etc. Let me tell you, that hand sewing paid off.  My bound button holes look pretty good.

The next tricky part was the shirring on the waist back.  I have used elastic thread for shirring before and had quite a bit of success.  However, I read a review on that said she had some issues with the shirring pulling too much.  Keeping that in mind, I spaced out my rows of shirring to 1/4 an inch instead of 1/8 an inch.  I also was careful to keep the fabric flat and taught as I sewed each row.  That seemed to do the trick!

Here it is sleeveless and without facings.  When I got to this point I was a bit worried that the waist was a bit long.  However, when I had my friend try it on, the waist was perfect!

In fact, that is where I did the most altering of the paper pattern from her measurements and I was incredibly pleased that it fit her so well.
 She tried it on without clothes, but for the sake of pictures, she put it on like this too.  The dress is almost done now after another fitting and marking the hem.  And I have started the next version since I am confident about the fit.

 How about you all; do you sew for profit?  Or just for fun?  Or something in between like this project?


  1. I love Gertie's Blog to! I sew in-between. I have a small business but I don't have any plans of grandeur when I started my business I just wanted to be able to support my very expensive sewing habit on my own, because you are right all the supplies can be quite expensive.

  2. I am a stay at home mum and, now that my boys are both at school, I have lots of time for sewing. I sew for myself and the family but I have taken on some paid sewing work (just a little bit and only simple stuff) to keep hubby happy. I also do the occasional friend project like yours, which can be very rewarding. I can't imagine being a full-time seamstress, I think it might ruin my enjoyment of my favourite hobby. Your friend's dress looks great :)


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