where i’m calling from

[Thank you, Joan Didion.  In your spirit (or, as an affront to it), I did not proofread this.]

I remember exactly when my shirtwaist dress obsession started.  It wasn’t with Betty Draper.  Indeed, it was with a three-year-old.

OLS Jumprope

A really flipping creepy-looking three-year-old, at that.  The Purl Bee did a now-missing post and used Liberty Fairy Clock to make a shirtwaist dress, maybe seven years ago, and I thought, “I could get on board with that.”  Then I went on a mad search for a similar dress for adults and found. . .nil.  I found 30″-bust vintage patterns and Big-Four patterns sans collar stands.  When I caught wind of Colette releasing the Hawthorn I got super excited, but was a little (okay, more than a little) disappointed by how non-traditional it was.  Then, my ship came sailing in.  M6696.  The Platonic ideal.  My east and my west.  The alpha and omega.  Since then, I think we’ve been living in the golden age of the shirtwaist dress.  Mary hosted the Autumn/Spring of 1000 Shirtdresses, and every time I turn around, there’s a pattern release with MOAR SHIRTDRESSES.  Hallelujah.

So, when Wendy from Coser Cosas asked for recommendations, I had no choice put to shamelessly parlay it into a blogpost.  You’re welcome, everyone.

I’ve arbitrarily divided things up into three categories, because I have to get up at the crack of dawn, and this is just the way I roll. Deal with it.  The first is waist definition.  Since I am currently doing the whole “post-surgical schmatta” thing, waist-defining dresses actually have become an independent category for me.  The horror and shame, I know.  Let’s talk starting from top left and moving counter-clockwise, shall we?

Waist-Defining Shirtwaists

McCall 6891 – Everything I used to hate about shirtwaist dresses.  Circle skirt and no placket and no collar band.  No thanks!  But, now that I have that beautiful little blue number on the bottom left, I can see the appeal of the 6891, and have bumped it up in the old queue.

Colette Hawthorn – SEW THE COLLAR WITH A 1/4″ SEAM ALLOWANCE.  I don’t know if the instructions have been corrected yet, but sweet baby james, I almost pitched mine into the nearest ravine when I realized that error.  Ahem.  Other than that, I am rather smitten with this dress.  I have PTSD from it, and  have yet to sew another one, but I am jonesing for a navy iteration with brass buttons.  We shall see.

Butterick 6090 Is this a shirtwaist dress?  Is it not a shirtwaist dress?  You know what this is?  My rodeo, and it is what I say it is.  I’m saying it’s a shawl-collared shirtwaist dress.  So there.  I think this is one of the more interesting offerings I’ve seen on deck, but I need a good sacrificial lamb to make it up before I take the plunge.*  Anyone?  You, madam, in the back?

Pauline Alice Camí – So, if this dress were out four years ago, I would have lost. my. wits.  It is pretty fabulous, though I haven’t seen many of them floating around.  Waddup, shirtwaist lovers?  Why y’all not making these up?  While we’re on the subject, I’m thinking about just lengthening a Carme blouse into a dress, as if I’m the sort of person who can get away with that sort of look.  Let’s just call it youth, for now.

Vogue 9077 – First off, I am endlessly amused by the fact that BMV use real fabrics for their stylized technical drawings.  This guy?  Was available on Fabric Mart, but snatched up right from underneath me before the sale.  Curses!  Anyhoodle, isn’t this a more adult version of a shirtwaist dress?  I can’t decide whether or not I’ll look as if I pocketed this from my mother, though.

McCall 6696 – I almost don’t even want to link to this one.  How many have I made thus far?  Three or four real deals, seven muslins through two sizes, one full version in voile lining.  I love this dress.

The second category is a bit misleading.  It’s non-traditional.  Which is to say, stuff that I couldn’t shoehorn in elsewhere.

Nontraditional Shirtwaist

Simplicity 2215 – My school has a truly daft song that we sing for special occasions called “How Long’s It Been?”  But, really, S2215, how long’s it been?  I’ve loved and used this pattern for at least five years, I’d wager.  Those asymmetric pleats ruined me for others.  I’ve never made up the full dress version, though.  Pity.  I should.

Merchant and Mills Dress Shirt – I just bought this!  Shall report back to HQ on how it goes as soon as I muslin it.  We need to have an M&M discussion, though.  I just muslined the Dea dress, it is one of the most stunning and body-complimenting things I’ve ever sewn, and yet almost no one ever makes them.  I am an official fan girl convert.  Plus, no zippers!  One size!  Cardstock!  Exclamation point!

Grainline Alder Show of hands, who among you has not made an Alder?  Yes, my count is hovering around a dozen.  Dozen and a half.  It is a popular pattern for a reason.  I thought I’d look dreadful in it, but I actually like the way I look.  Gina from Feminist Stitch loves the second view, I can vouch for the first.  I realized too late I messed up the interfacing on my really lovely silk, but I’m sure I’ll figure out a way around that.  Optimism, etc.  Where were we, before we started talking about me?  Yes.  The pattern.  If you don’t mess up royally, I’m sure you’ll love it in any view.

Simplicity 1755 This isn’t a shirtwaist dress!  It’s not the messiah, it’s just a very naughty boy!  Fine.  This one barely makes it in under the wire, but I quite like Leannimal, so I had to include it.  Plus, I’ve been looking for any excuse at all to make it up, and have come up with nil.  Nada.  Nunca.  This is one of the few, “That’s just not my life, bro” patterns that exist.  Even the Brooklyn art teacher patterns from Marcy Tilton can squeeze it in, should they choose.  But, I maintain hope.  If you live a more fabulous life than I, then this is the shirtwaist for you.

Princess seams are the last categories.  First, we should review my method for doing an FBA on a princess seam.  First, I use Mary or Alana’s FBA tutorial, which I am too lazy to find and link.  Then, I invariably end up smashing down the 3D piece with my flat palm.  Having an eff bee is not a pleasant life experience, it seems.  But, these dresses make up for it.  Sometimes.

Princess Seamed Shirtwaists

Butterick 6091 – Collar stand, covered placket, seams that release themselves out into pleats in a way that I cannot explain.  Can you say skill builder?  I sound like I’m advertising for it.  Now we know I’m getting sleepy.  These are going to get shorter.  No one on PR has made this one, though.  Really, Pattern Review community.  How am I supposed to free ride if none of you offer a ride?!

McCall 7084 This fabric again.  Princess seam dress with a v-neck and an A-line skirt.  Seems legit.

Deer and Doe I-Passed-French-Proficiency-But-Misspelled-Bleuet-Dress I’m going to sleep.  What Anna said.

*There’s a really good Ezra Pound poem called “The Plunge.”  I mention this because it might inspire you to take the plunge and make up this stupid bloody dress for me.


18 thoughts on “where i’m calling from”

  1. Oh I love me a round up. Do you want opinions? I’ll give it anyway….. I do wish I had more opportunity to wear dresses. I’d love one for every day of the week. What are your thoughts on the Lisette shirtdress? I know it doesn’t have a collar and stand but I do like the casual version that would great in a flannel check (or plaid as the Americans like to say). I have 6696 (I made my brother go into a fabric store and buy if for my birthday) and very much want a black version with long sleeves, straight skirt and brown buttons. I’ve made the Alder but stuffed up and cut a size too small AND used 5/8 inch seam allowances so it’s being recut into a denim Beignet in the near future…. I’m undecided on the poofy skirt version….
    I’ve also used a vintage blouse pattern I love extended to make a dress and I love it so very much. So definitely try the Carme blouse lengthened. And tying in nicely with your last post I made a fruity dress that might not qualify as a shirt waist as it’s got no buttons, but does have a collar… Maybe it’s a popover. Anyway I love it too.
    I love the look of the Hawthorne but the idea of all the tiny buttons unhinges me a little. My machine can be unpredictably churlish when dealing with multiple button holes.
    The others, I cannot say. I’ve never liked the Bleuet – it reminds me of dresses girls used to wear in supermarkets in the 1980’s in Australia. Checkout chick chic…..

    1. I always want opinions. It’s woefully out of print! I have the Traveler Dress, cut it out, but have yet to sew it. I loved Liesl Gibson’s collection for Simplicity, but find her transition over to McCall quite interesting. Her line there seems a lot more urban and adult than her line for Simplicity which was a different brand of retro.

      The Alder is fun! I didn’t love the idea of it, at first, but then over the past year or so I’ve warmed to it considerably. You’d look especially good in one. So, no more stuffing up (which I’m going to say instead of my usual sailor’s term).

      I think I used 3/8″ buttons on the Hawthorn without incident. I won’t tell Colette that you didn’t use their recommended baby buttons.

      Oooh, popover. Do you mean your Fujiyama Mama dress, by any chance? It is super cute.

      I didn’t want to say this, but fuck it, I’ll just do it: I think I’ll look like a diner waitress in a Bleuet. My apologies to all of the diner waitresses in the audience—y’all do the lord’s work. But, there have been people who’ve escaped that curse. I suppose it depends largely on the print and styling. Slap a cardigan on that, and it’s adorable.

      1. Yes I did mean my Fujiyama mama – I love it so! I think if you made your Bleuet in a nice fruity fabrico there’d definitely be a lot less diner/checkout chick vibe… I think the ones I saw were in solids and were wrong in many ways. I love the party-in-the-back bow I must admit.

  2. I loved this post. I quietly stash shirt dress patterns. I love them. I freaked out when the famous McCalls didn’t turn out to be my cut of tea but was sold again on shirt dresses after three successful Alders (which I didn’t expect to like at all!) Vogue 9077 is high on my list of future acquisitions – love that one…

  3. Love this post, Charlotte. I have only ever made one shirtwaister, but I have a couple on deck for this summer (both Burda). I have made Simplicity 2215 and the armholes are too low, which I didn’t correct as I was making it and so I had to go back and slim the side seams and raise the shoulders etc until I got a wearable garment. I think they are designed to be deep because of the shirt that is to be worn underneath it. Something I don’t like about blogs is that you can see that some others have also cut the armholes quite low (e.g. bra reveal at the wrong angle) but they don’t mention it or show it in the photos. But maybe I’m just obsessed with armholes or require particularly shallow ones… I’ve made the skirt lots and am definitely going to make another of the dress this summer. Agree about the asymmetric pleats.

    Off to check out some of the other patterns.

  4. I love the idea of the Merchant and Mills patterns, but with the exchange rate and the cost of shipping to Canada, I just can’t justify it.

  5. I’m currently in the muslin process of a Burda shirtdress (5-2010-137 if you’re interested), so you’re timing couldn’t have been worse! 😉 No, even with these lovely options, I’d probably still have chosen the Burda, because I have a big imagination and fancy that I can be as gorgeous as the model. I can’t, but I’m just going to keep pretending anyway.

    I really like the concept of that Butterick 6090 dress, but I’m just not enough of a dress-wearing person to justify buying another dress pattern. If I didn’t have that obnoxious “chub rub” thing though, I might be game.

  6. Nice round-up! Totally agree with you on the Pauline Alice pattern. I was so desperate for it early 2013 that I made the pattern myself and the subsequent dress in a Theory white cotton. Everything was perfect about it. EVERYTHING. Then I lost weight…

  7. Oh man, what a fun roundup! I’m sadly lacking in shirtdresses, other than my three Alders (got a few more planned for this summer… it’s just so damn easy to wear!). I have Simplicity 2215 and the Pauline Alice dress, but haven’t made either one. I showed the Cami dress to my mom, who immediately requested one, and, because I’m a terrible person, I haven’t worked up the energy to sew up and mail her a muslin (long-distance sewing is a whole ordeal!), but because I’m a decent person, I haven’t made it for myself instead of her. So, we’re at a bit of an impasse, Cami and I! I think I need to just give in and buy 6696 already.

  8. I am the shirtwaist wardrobe winner, as pretty much everything all summer long is a shirtwaist dress. Mostly in novelty cottons, but damn me, I don’t care.
    Now all I need is a new machine or a pal who loves to do buttonholes and I’m golden…

  9. That three year old looks like she’s holding a knife dripping with blood. Thanks for the nightmare fuel, Oliver + S.

    I just got Simplicity 2215, which has long been on my wishlist, but all it’s done is caused me to agonize over what fabric to use. I’ve never noticed Butterick 6091 before, but I really like it.

    I do endorse the second view of the Alder! I’m going to cut out a third one whenever I make some other decisions about pattern/fabric pairing – I want to have a big cutting marathon so I’ll be stocked up on sewing projects.

    I never had a chance to reply to your last post because I am extremely lazy, but I need you to know that I’m making a shirtwaist dress with cats on it. When I thought I might be getting a real adult job next year, I started worrying that maybe I should make fewer things like this. But now that that ship has sailed, I will continue making kitty dresses for at least another year. Grad students have special dispensations for these sorts of things because everyone already knows that we’re emotionally stunted – we might as well dress the part. Now I just need to decide if I’ll dye my hair strange colors again this summer, which is juvenile in a 16 year old way rather than a 6 year old way.

  10. I have a collection of shirtwaist dresses. I love them! I have never owned a shirtwaist dress, nor have a made one. I love the idea but I fear how it will look. I did try one on at the store once, the kind with princess seams, and I loved it. It just didn’t fit quite right, so I passed. I kinda wish I hadn’t. Maybe I will dust off one of my many patterns one of these days and try my hand at it.

  11. I meant to comment on this a long time ago, but completely forgot. so here are my opinions (because they’re so important, obvi):

    I can’t for the life of me get the Colette Hawthorn front darts to look good on me and I’m kinda over futzing with it. The back bodice fits amazingly well though and I’ve actually used it in combination with the Deer and Doe Belladone Dress when I was looking for something a bit more conservative in the back.

    I think I recently bought Butterick 6090 because the shawl-collar intrigued me. I’ll make it and then report on how well it fits.

    I’ve made the famous McCalls 6696 twice and I’m definitely taking out the back gathers the next time I make it because they just poof out and I look like I have a severe hunchback, not the look I’m going for. Actually, I’m not sure I love this dress as much as most people do. I’m not a huge fan of pencil skirts so that version feels too constricting. But the pleats feel a bit overwhelming….maybe I would like it more with the Hollyburn skirt swapped in.

    *sheepishly raises hand and whispers, “I’ve never made the Grainline Alder”.* I’m worried I’ll look preggers in it. But after reading that you like the way it looks on you, maybe I’ll try it out. I love the version Melizza (Pincushion and Treats) made. In fact, I kinda just want to copy hers exactly.

    I’ve never seen Butterick 6091 and it looks like a pattern I would really enjoy. Definitely adding it to my list!

    This was such a great roundup! Definitely made me think of aspects I like in patterns, things I don’t like in others, and what I should be looking for.

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