1960s Dress – Sewing Bee pattern challenge Week 5

A lesson in precision.

Not so much a case of “measure twice, cut once”, more a case of just measure, measure, and measure again! This is not a garment to make in a rush.


Yves St Laurent apparently said of his design that it gave the “illusion of a simple dress”. And yes, it looks simple but is in fact quite complicated. However, taking it step by step it could be made by a beginner. And having made it I am now an absolute fan of the design and style; it is a beautiful shape. The lack of bust darts enhances the simplicity of the dress its stunning shape. Can’t wait to try it again, just using the shape – I will modify it and make it without the black stripes, just using the same fabric throughout, in a Liberty print or a plain linen.

Making it is a challenge but one that is very satisfying. Mind you, I would not like to do it in the three and a half hours allowed on the Sewing Bee. It took me nearer five hours, but I did check every single stitch and seam. If I was a millimetre out I measured again until I got it spot on. Using plain cotton fabrics make it easy to be precise though, and they were a pleasure to work with after the last few pattern challenges using silk and stretch lace and jersey.

IMG_3205It is worth setting out the colours as a mock-up to see that everything works well colourwise. The painter,
Mondrian, on whose work the dress is based, always had white in his paintings and I wanted to stick to that authenticity. My colours are very similar to those in the GBSB book, but I exchanged the yellow for a lime green and the emerald green for a teal. I think the colours work well.

IMG_3220Making up the front piece was the most time-consuming part. As I said, I measured everything several times. I found using a quilter’s rule and a rotary cutter an advantage for the black strips. Rather than cut out the pattern pieces and pin them onto the fabric as normal, I measured them and was then able to cut them absolutely square. It really is worth paying attention to detail here.

When sewing each seam I made sure the black strip was a consistent 4cm in width and used the quilter’s rule to check the joins made a perfect right-angle.

Once the front piece was completed it was a fairly straightforward pattern with double-ended darts on the back and a combined neck and sleeve facing. I used an invisible zip rather than the 60s style overlapped zip.  I felt the invisible zip suited the dress perfectly.

As well as paying attention to the accuracy of cutting and seams, pressing to within an inch of its life is essential for a perfect finish.

So, my top tips for making this dress:

  1. Use a quilter’s rule and rotary cutter to cut out the black strips and bottom panel
  2. Make a colour mock-up before starting – use small scraps of fabric
  3. Draw a line to sew along 1.5cm from the edge of the fabric – use a soft pencil or tailor’s chalk
  4. Measure everything several times over – measure each end of each black strip
  5. Press on the wrong side of the garment, using a hot iron
  6. Use an invisible zip if your machine has the right attachment
  7. Have your iron and ironing board constantly at hand – pressing at every stage is absolutely essential
  8. The GBSB book is great for patterns but it is an absolute pain to try and trace them all. My top tip here is to take the sheet to a copy centre that does AO size and spend the £2 or so to copy the sheet and then cut out. Be warned though, I did just that with this one and found I should have got two copies as the pattern pieces overlap.

To book a workshop to make this dress, click here for the workshops page. I would suggest at least two half day sessions for experienced sewers, three sessions for intermediates and four sessions for complete beginners. As the dress is made of an easy-to-work-with fabric, it could be made by beginners with lots of patience. Contact me to book a place and for information on fabric requirements. As always, workshops can be at my workroom in Amersham or at a venue of your choice.



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