The Birthday Dress That Almost Was

There once was a 40 frock so why not a 50 frock as well? First thing to note: those last ten years have gone really, really FAST (exploding head emoji goes here). Also to note: favourite decade so far and I’m feeling pretty excited to see what the next one brings.

Last minute sewing can be stUHresssssssful and I was not much in the mood for anything stress-related in that splendid post Christmas/pre New Year bubble where my birthday happens to fall. But the calendar being what it was, with a couple of fortuitous public holidays and not much else planned, I decided to give that birthday dress a go while applying a solid “no-pressure” caveat.

On Boxing Day I hit the pattern stash and came up with these two oldies/goodies – Vogue 2429 (which you may remember from here) and Style 1548. I do love a V-neck and I’d always wanted to try the V-neck (View D) on 2429. This time, I was less keen on the gathered skirt (partly due to my fabric choice) and was after more of an A-line silhouette so I figured the 1548 skirt – lengthened – would work well with the bodice I’d chosen. For a similar in-print pattern, try McCalls 7802.

Fun fact: at some point earlier in the year that was 2021, I fixated on the idea of making my 50th birthday dress using a sewing pattern published in my birth year of 1971. I then spent some (but not heaps of) time researching 1971 patterns on this page, but nothing really jumped out at me so I quickly moved on from that idea. As it turns out – and without realising it until mid-sew – I did sneak in a birthday year release because that Vogue pattern was featured in their International Pattern Book dated Dec 1970/Jan 1971. And the serendipity of that I love.

So Boxing Day delivered my pattern choice(s) and the following day I did my cutting and fusing. I prefer to break up my cutting and sewing over different days because my projects always feel more manageable that way and I always feel more organised that way. Cutting is my least favourite part of the sewing process and, over the years, I’ve learnt that getting that sorted on one day when I don’t do anything else just…helps. On the 28th – the day before my birthday – I slowly sewed, actually thinking I was a slim chance to finish and being totally okay if I didn’t finish because, remember, “no pressure”.

But hey, those sewing/birthday gods were smiling down on me that day because this dress came together perfectly, every step of the way (*except for one dart that I sewed badly and had to unpick). I’m laying part of that down to good luck but also much of it to the fabric I chose – Cherry Roses. It’s a weighty, ever so slightly textured viscose used in this Valentino Pre-Fall 2018 collection – you can see it made up in Look #38. And it’s incredible. Cuts like a dream, sews like a dream, presses like a dream, feels like a dream, falls like a dream. It’s also available in this silk organza.

To stabilise the fabric and prevent any stretching at the V-neck, I used tear-away. I’ve sewn enough V-necks now to know that gaping and stretching can happen very easily here, and using tear-away at this stage eliminates any risk of that happening. I also used it on the armholes (front and back) because, in the course of handling the fabric, I didn’t want anything to stretch out there either.

In combining two patterns, I had to carefully work out some measurements so that the skirt and bodice matched up. I also added darts to the back of the skirt, corresponding them to meet with the back bodice darts so it sits (and fits) nicely across my back.

I slashed and spread the sleeve for a little more fullness and love the ‘extra’ they give when you push up the elasticated cuffs.

And so the dress got completely done, except the hem, which I figured I could squeeze in somewhere the next day. But, best laid plans and all that because I didn’t actually get to wear the dress on my birthday. The lovely fella had told me that he was taking me out for dinner and I’d optimistically allowed myself about 15 minutes to hem the dress before we were due to head out. After catching up with friends, I raced home, grabbed my dress from the bedroom and as I rushed to get upstairs to my sewing machine, was met in the lounge by a very small surprise gathering with some very special friends. And so there was no time (and no need) to hem after that. It’s since been blind hemmed and I suspect it may get its first proper outing at a wedding we’ve got coming up. And that’s perfectly OK because it’s still my 50 Frock and it’s still part of what ended up being, at the end of a pretty challenging year, a pretty special day.