Rate the Dress: 1940s stripes

Last week I showed a Regency dress that was radical in its simplicity, and use of luxurious fabric.  What you really noticed though, was how radically low the neckline was!

This week’s Rate the Dress features a more covered-up plunging neckline.  It aims for sexy and sophisticated, without a lot of skin.

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Dinner dress of ribbed navy, green & yellow striped silk, Patullo-Jo Copeland, 1940s, sold by Augusta Auctions

Striped frocks have a surprisingly rocky record on Rate the Dress, frequently coming under fire for the placement or mis-alignment of stripes.  How will this one do?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

Cheers, Leimomi

The sorta-maybe-kinda ’20s cardigan

Back during the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘Black & White’ challenge in addition to a white item, I also whipped up a black item.


McCall's M6803 Cardigan thedreamstress.com

It’s a sort-of, maybe, ’20s inspired cardigan.

Granted, it looks a lot more 1920s if I pair it with a ’20s skirt and thick stockings and ’20s shoes!

Confession time: this cardigan did not, at all, start out as an intentionally even remotely historical piece.

It started out because I noticed that there was a new cardigan pattern out: McCall’s M6803.  I love cardigans, and have been on the hunt for the perfect cardigan pattern (though the goal of my search has gradually downgraded from ‘perfect’, to ‘good’, to ‘reasonable’, to ‘not completely awful’ as I work through the options).

Obviously I had to try this one.

Let me tell you, M6803 is not perfect.  It’s not even good.  Or reasonable.  In fact, it’s completely awful. (in fact, they are all so awful I’ve sucked it up and drafted my own – but more about that later)

The big ‘Unisex’ sticker on the cover did make me suspicious, but I have bought lots of men’s cardigans over the years for myself, so unisex can be awesome.

In the case of this pattern, ‘Unisex’ is code for “well, men and women both have two arms and a head so if you design it really big it call pull over all of those and fit both.”

I cut a size small.  I’m not a big woman, but I’m hardly tiny (I’m 5’7″ and measure 37″ around my bust).  The cardigan was ENORMOUS.  About 6 sizes too big on me.  And about 4 sizes too big on Mr D, who wears a men’s small in everything.  (I know, I should have pre-measured, but I wanted to try the pattern as it was).

Also, the instructions on how to construct the cardigan were incredibly bad and stupid.  Anyone with any experience with sewing knits would immediately look at them and know they wouldn’t work.  A fully interfaced collar band, with no suggestion that it should be a knit interfacing, and no allowance for stretching the band so it snugs around the neck?  And the band is cut against the stretch?

Anyway, since I had a LOT of cardigan to work with, and I was going to have to re-do every bit of sewing on the cardigan, I decided to cut it down based on an almost disintegrated late ’20s cardigan I studied a few years ago.

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

I was able to rescue most of the garment, but the unsatisfactory neck binding mostly had to stay, so you can see how it gapes a bit around my neck.

McCall's M6803 Cardigan thedreamstress.com

The cardigan I based it on was hand knitted, but I used sewing techniques I’ve seen on sewn ’20s & ’30s knitwear – mostly swimsuits, but occasionally other garments.  This meant I could use the overlocker, because sewn knitwear in the ’20s & ’30s was almost exclusively commercially made, and overlockers have been around since the 1880s in commercial workshops.

Stylistically, the biggest difference between my cardigan and the original (which was also boring black) was that I didn’t add front patch pockets, mostly because I don’t use them, don’t like the bulk they add, and was kinda over the cardigan by that point.

Cut-wise, my cardigan is probably still a bit loose under the arms for a ’20s cardigan.  Considering the overgrown ’80s monstrosity it started as, it’s not bad though!

I’ve been wearing the cardigan for almost two months now, but haven’t gotten photos simply because I’ve been so busy – teaching every single weeknight, and when I running around with meetings on the weekends the weather was crap.

This weekend I finally had a free afternoon, and the weather was spectacular.  Wellington has been having the best winter: much warmer than usual, hardly any wind, and lots and lots of sparkling, sunny days.  Today was one of them, so I convinced Mr D to go for a drive and a photoshoot.

The weather was so nice, and I was feeling so energetic, that I opted for scramble and ramble friendly jeans and sneakers, instead of vintage appropriate mid-calf skirts and heavy stockings and low-heeled leather shoes.

McCall's M6803 Cardigan thedreamstress.com

Since I wasn’t going for vintage styling, instead of heading for a vintage location, we explored a ramble-y walk and a scramble-y derelict building in a location we’ve been meaning to explore for a while.

Rather than sporty ’20s girl out for a winter walk, the photoshoot turned out to be all about barbed wire, and tumbled-down beams, and graffiti – which is quite unusual for me, but which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Check on this awesome piece of graffiti:

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

And a close up:

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

Makes me want to go all Cation and make a Spiderman dress!

This one is quite good too:

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

Happy Birthday!

My favourite photos aren’t even really about the cardigan.  They are about the setting, and the light.

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

(Can we talk for a moment about how awesome my sneakers are?  I bought them at Art Deco weekend because it was 31 degrees and the shoe store was air conditioned and I was so happy to be in it I tried on every single pair of shoes in the shop in my size and ended up buying two pairs.  These ones are SO awesome I try to wear them every day.  My pink and fuchsia scarves and tops haven’t gotten much of an outing this winter because they clash horribly with the shoes, and I’m always wearing the shoes!  The turquoise scarf was a birthday present from my (also awesome) Mother-in-Law (along with the gift certificate I mentioned earlier) and it’s been my go-to scarf with these shoes).

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: #9 – Black & White

Fabric: 1.2m merino knit tubing, bought at Fabric-a-Brac for $10 for 3m.  (I could count this for the Under $10 challenge if I hadn’t finished it over 6 weeks ago!)

Pattern: It started as McCall’s M6803, but there is only one original seamline left, so mostly my own, based on an on a vintage original

Year: 1925-33

Notions: Cotton thread, darkest blue buttons (they look black in everything but the brightest sunlight – it’s a beautiful effect). 

How historically accurate is it?  Roughly plausible?  50% maybe?  Merino (called Botany wool at the time) was used in the ’20s, the pattern is based on a period original – albeit a hand knitted one, and the construction is based on period construction, but the combination of all three is unproven.

Hours to complete: Roughly 6, though I got lost between the terrible origins and the finished product.

First worn: Oh gosh, I can’t remember!  I’ve worn this so much since making it!  The merino is so delicious: super soft, super light, super warm.  It’s like wearing a cloud made of angel hugs.  It is a bit frumpy and schlumpy paired with jeans, but so comfortable I can’t resist throwing it on all the time!

McCall's M6803 Cardigan re-make thedreamstress.com


I’ve been so busy since January with coordinating the HSF and sewing for the HSF and The Project and life in general that I’ve haven’t managed to do a pogey bait* post in 6 months.

In that time I’ve gone op-shopping and gone antique shopping and gone everything shopping at Art Deco weekend and celebrated a birthday and accumulated this enormous pile of fabulous goodies I thought you might enjoy a peek at:

Lots of vintage goodies, thedreamstress.com

Right in front is a bit of literary pogey bait – an early 20th century edition of Emma (old Jane Austen books are surprisingly hard to find at op-shops), a lovely O Douglas, a beautiful Art Nouveau collection of Tennyson (I like Tennyson for being such a soap opera of a poet), an early 20th century edition of Jane Eyre (just as rare as Austen’s), and a first edition Chronicles of Avonlea – be still my heart!

Vintage books thedreamstress.com

They are all sitting on a gem of a patchwork quilt full of 1930s & 40s prints.  I’ve shared some highlights of it on Facebook, and will do a whole blog post here.

Next to the book are a stack of fashion magazines and catalogues.

There is a 1920s one I bought not for the transfers (long since gone) but for the illustrations of ’20s lingere:

1920s fashion catalogue thedreamstress.com

Aaaaaah!  So cute!

1920s fashion catalogue thedreamstress.com

And a whole pile of 1930s Women’s Weekly magazines, all stitched together.

1930s fashion magazines thedreamstress.com

If only they still had the coupon patterns they were sold with!

1930s fashion magazines thedreamstress.com

The little box behind them is a treat all in itself:

Vintage Japanese for the export market baby shoes thedreamstress.com

Little Japanese bunnies!  In wheelbarrows!

But what’s inside?

Vintage Japanese for the export market baby shoes thedreamstress.com

Teeny-tiny baby bunny slippers.


I’m pretty sure these are early ’20th century, and are Japanese for the export market.  The slippers are silk and rabbit fur, and the box is wrapped in silk.

Next to them is some exquisite modern silk handwork:

Embroidered silk garters thedreamstress.com

These scrumptious pieces are silk garters, hand embroidered for me by the wonderful Madame O as a birthday present!

And they are sitting on another birthday present – divided drawers.  My lovely mother-in-law got me a gift certificate to my favourite antique store as a present, and these are (part of) what I spent it on.

Divided drawers and other goodies thedreamstress.com

The rest of the gift certificate was spent on linen thread, the gorgeous green 1930s floral cotton you see here, and those fabulous red buttons (they have maple leaves!  I’m going to make pretty things for my Canadian + vintage loving friends!).

1930s fabric, fashion magazine, and 40s buttons thedreamstress.com

The German fashion magazine was an inadvertent birthday present.  I treated myself to the bee-YOU-ti-ful 1930s reddish hat you see below from Lauren at Wearing History (she was stash clearing in preparation for her exciting new clothing line) as my present to myself, and she, not even knowing it was my birthday, tucked in a bunch of goodies she thought I might want.

1930s & 40s hats thedreamstress.com

How sweet is that?  They included the Mode und Her magazine, a 1930s fancy dress pattern (my new collecting obsession), half a dozen vintage photographs, and a vintage print.  Lauren is amazing!

Now about the other hat you see above.  I found that at Fabric-a-Brac, and it is a 1940s dolls hat – as in, an actual doll: a small ceramic toy.  But look how cute it looks on me:

1940s dolls hat thedreamstress.com

Love it!  (I know, an actual selfie from me.  Gasp, shock, horror!)

But there was a fashion in the ’40s for miniature hats which were called ‘doll’ or ‘toy’ hats, so I am totally going to wear this as one of those! (and I am quite gutted that I didn’t buy the other dolls hats on the same stall – there was one in green velvet…)

Moving on to other delicious bits, the ’20s wedding photograph below is one from Lauren.  The gorgeous embroidered shawl is my most recent find, spotted only yesterday at a local op-shop.  It’s probably 1920s, silk (I also have a rayon shawl of the same period), and has the most spectacular fringe, not to mention being in the most perfectly Leimomi-esque colours!

Vintage embroidered silk shawl thedreamstress.com

The plaid umbrella is an on-the-way-back-from Art Deco Weekend find.

Vintage plaid parasol thedreamstress.com

Check out the handle:

Vintage stuffed toy thedreamstress.com

It’s a little clown head!  Fabulous creepy!

’40s I think?  Maybe ’50s?  And definitely for a child.

The vintage knitted stuffed toy is completely stuffed with very old stockings.  You can just see a big hole on his far arm where they are peeking through.  Such a lovely example of re-use!

So what am I going to do with all this stuff?

The books will be read and petted and admired and read, and read again (I only keep books I’ll re-read, and I re-read a lot).

The magazines and drawers and shawl and quilt will become study pieces – I’ll use the images to illustrate blog posts and articles, and use them for research.

The fabric and buttons and thread will be sewn up – maybe not right away, but eventually!

The hats will be worn, but not until next summer.  I’m already planning outfits to go with them.  And the garters will definitely be worn – with all my pretty sewn stockings (don’t worry, the tutorial on how to make them is in the works!)

The parasol and stuffed toy are probably transitory parts of my collection.  I want do a photoshoot with the parasol, and images of the toy will go into a collection of make-do stuff I’m accumulating, but I don’t need to own either of them forever.  There is too much other stuff as it is!

And finally, someday all of my collection of rescued orphan vintage photos are going to be framed and will go up in a big display on a wall – someday!

* For the history of the term pogey bait, as used by me, see this post.

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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