Pedigree of a Dress- Design Inspiration!

I’ve been showing you the artwork and pattern work behind my first sewing pattern- three posts in a row, like clowns emerging from a tiny car!  Tonight’s Tiramisu clown will be the design inspiration behind the pattern, or her “pedigree,” if you will.

Last May, I received this darling dress pattern from Emma as a part of a pattern swap arranged by Tina through a Sew Weekly discussion thread.  (oh the wonders of the internet!)  I loved her from first sight– I’d been drafting my own for a while and hadn’t bought a “new” vintage pattern for longer than I could remember, but this little gem made me drop everything in my sewing queue.  Stripes!  Pleats!  Full Skirt!  Midriff Section!  Kimono Sleeves!  And a handy little bolero.  I love those little boleros, they often translate to modern wear so well.

I threw her together from a thrifted cotton duvet cover and even made the bolero from some sweater knit.  This quickly became my favorite thing to wear- easy to throw on, forgiving to my figure, and fun.

I wrote about this for the Sew Weekly write-up at the time, but I’ll say it again.  1950’s fashion- that is, the clothes people wore as opposed to the haute couture, really celebrated the female figure.  I wasn’t around at the time, but I hear tell this was a period of time called the baby boom years.  Soldiers returned home after WW2 and got busy with moving on with life.  That means making babies.  Lots of them.  The legions of fighters became lovers.

That means lots of young mommies with rapidly shifting body shapes, soft curves, little tummies, big tummies, possibly leaking breasts.  Fuller skirts gracefully camoflauge changing figures, and relatively simple cuts like this one go together quickly and aren’t fussy to wear.  I like this.

I think one of the many shortfalls of modern high-street fashion is that it tries to slot all of us into little categories: “Miss” “Maternity” “Plus Size” and “Woman.”  I remember finding it very hard to find clothes for myself that looked young and attractive without looking “available.”  I was a Miss who didn’t want what Miss had to offer.  So I started sewing seriously. (Do you ever feel slotted into an ill-fitting category of RTW?)

But 50’s dresses?  I suspect the reason so many of us younger women love the 50’s is because dressing from this era allows us to be feminine and youthful and a bit covered up.  And whether it’s from pregnancy, aging, weight changes or hormonal fluctuations, female bodies are seldom the same from one month, week, or day to the next.    We’re shape-shifters! 1950’s house dresses knew that, and I like it.

I like it so much, I translated it into a knit:

Click to visit the pre-sale! $11 pre-sale, $17 retail. Ends October 5th

Tira is more the grand-daughter to the Simplicity 4110 dress than a copy or reproduction.  I took inspiration from the bodice/midriff sections, eliminated the zipper, and used a half-circle skirt in place of the pleated a-line.  It’s also a knit, not a woven, and the construction reflects this, though I did keep an element of “vintage” construction by leaving the side seams to the last step for easy width adjustment.

I’ve noticed something through my personal experiments with cut, color, and fabric type in my sewing.  This might be a Queensland or a Brisbane thing, I’m not sure.  Clothes made from woven fabrics seem to read as “dressy” or “professional” or *dread* “costumey” while knits read as “regular clothes.”  I don’t mean to people who sew, but in general.  I suppose this is because wovens should be ironed (I don’t usually) which implies greater care is taken with the garment.  Even when it isn’t.

But I find this creates a sort of barrier between me and others.  People might remark “Oh, you’re so dressed up!” or “I should have put on something fancier!” when I wear my wovens, even if I don’t think I am all that fancied up.   No one has ever accused me of being “all dressed up” in knits.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with dressing up, but I like finding the happy medium between wearing designs I like and not creating a sartorial barrier between myself and the people around me.  This is what attracts me to sewing and designing with knits- I can play pretty freely with cut, fiber content and/or color but knits still look like “clothes” to most people, so it’s ok!

What do you think?  Do wovens look more like “dressy” clothes, while knits are more like “regular” clothes?  Why do you think that is?  Or is it just me?  Which do you sew more?  Which do you wear more?

And WOW!  We’re at 198 pre-sales for the Tiramisu Pattern!  Thank you so much for your support, I really don’t have the words but I *have* been breaking out into the Charleston in my kitchen a lot more lately.  I’m keeping the sale open until the 5th, as advertised.  The pattern goes to print very shortly, and I should have the pattern ready to ship by early November.

Tomorrow night I’m taking a breather, then I’ll be back with more!  This time it’s less clowns climbing out of a tiny car and more individual acts!  I mean, guides and stuff.    Prizes, Audience Participation, and Overlocker / Coverhem Buying Guides- Do you need one and what to look for!  I just had to unpack those “clowns” first.  By the way, that Simplicity 4110 pattern has moved on to the next phase of her life at Nettie’s House.

(psst- the “my husband thinks I’m crazy” post comes later, about testing muslins and what that process is like.  I enjoy it.  Just didn’t work for tonight!)


  1. I love the inspiration pattern too! But having never (literally) worked with stripes before I am curious – is there a design reason you switched the “point” or chevron on the stripes in the skirt from down to up?

    • Well, not really. More of a hunch that the chevron switch would create a little bit of an “optical illusion” pointing to the waist, sort of draws the eye up and down the form? Maybe.

      It’s quite easy to switcharound. :) What a cool question, good eye…

  2. I like knits because I don’t have to iron them and they are forgiving if I’ve put on a few pounds. I have learned to let them hang dry and then only put them in the dryer for a few minutes to freshen them up. I am thrilled this pattern is a knit. Knits are something I always buy but have stayed away from when sewing. The Renfrew was my first knit and now, I am so looking forward to the Tiramisu!

    • Yeah for sure. :) I have heard so many good things about Renfrew, I really must get my hands on some Sewaholic to play with.

      Thanks! She’ll be with you very soon.

  3. I adore the 50s. So flattering to my body shape. I love other decades too but the 50s are the most me. :)

    I think in general knits tend to read as more casual than wovens. (Oh, wrinkles!) But I do have some vintage knit dresses and they don’t always read casual so I think the design, print and the accessorizing have a lot do do with things too.

  4. Love that inspiration pattern! I totally agree with you about the ease of wearing the 50’s silhouette. It always flatters and looks pretty, no matter how one feels about oneself on any given day. And thinking about your knits vs. woven comments. Yes. I do notice that even here in the Great White North, my cotton dresses are perceived as “dressier” than my knit dresses. Maybe knit = relaxed casual in the modern mind. Although I did make a McCardell dress of knit, and it reads as quite dressy. I agree with Stephanie: I think it depends on the whole package. Interesting. You’re always making me think, Steph!

    • For some reason, Tia, I thought you lived in the Mediterranean region somewhere. My mistake! :)

      Yes… It’s the whole package, but knits do seem to skew more towards “casual / approachability.” Something along those lines… :) I have to work harder to dress up knits, or maybe it’s in my head…

  5. My least favorite part of sewing is the ironing. I hate it AND I’m bad at it. The things never seem to look properly pressed when I’m done, no matter what I do.
    I am eagerly awaiting my package!! I saw a USPS truck outside my building yesterday and I nearly ran out and demanded to know if my package was inside, lol

    • Ahhh! If it doesn’t turn up in the next few days, email me. I have insurance and a tracker on that package!

      Hmmm… I wonder what it is about the pressing? Curious.

  6. I preface this with saying I hardly ever sew for myself. (But your pattern is so nice! I might have to break with tradition. . . )

    For kid’s clothes, particularly little boy clothes, any top made out of a woven will read as dressy. Woven pants are dressier than knits, but knit pants are so very casual as to read as “in house only.” I like the things I make to look plausibly like ready wear, commercial clothes. For my toddler, I do a lot of cutting down and recycling big people clothes. While it can be a bit of a pain to pick apart a waistband, I love that the fabrics always look “real”.

    In this post, my little boy is wearing a shirt cut down from two tees and a pair of jeans made from my husband’s old jeans:

    I think it looks convincing!

    • Oh yes! I think the “dressy” and “casual” effect is even more exaggerated in kid’s clothes… I like putting Lila in woven tops with long sleeves for summer, but mostly she wears knits… And unlike many many other mommies, I also don’t let my kiddie wear knit pants outside the house… Leggings are not pants, no matter your age!

      You did such a great job documenting the process! Nice! And it’s a really really cute re-fashion. Love it! :)

  7. I…. don’t have any interest in sewing with knits. I suffered through a few shirts for my daughter, but as soon as the pattern sale hit, I ran to the store and got her some woven and a pattern to make a similar top from a woven.

    Knits are never forgiving for me. Like bias cuts, which are supposed to be nice on fuller figures… they just aren’t. Not on me. I like the slight stiffness and away-from-the body silhouette of wovens (and often wear petticoats with my skirts to make sure they stay away from my body).

    But – your observation that knits read as more casual/accessible than wovens? Absolutely. I wore a new (and perfectly fitting – thanks for the advice!) cotton dress to a party this last weekend and I was *way* overdressed. If I’d been wearing a knit, I probably wouldn’t have off-put quite so many people.

    Too bad for the people. I’m sticking to my wovens. (Okay,yes… next time I’ll wear a skirt and blouse instead of a dress – at least with that crew).

    • I love it, and I agree… I wore a lot of wovens for years and years, and I do like a good petticoat..

      So pleased you got the fit you want! Hooray! Are there pictures anywhere? :)

      I love your defiant ambivalence. :) For me, eventually, it started to be obvious to me that whether I liked it or not, the way I was dressing got in my way more than helped me. If that makes sense. But we all have to do what we have to do.

      • There are advantages to living in SoCal – one of them is that you can dress the way you like, as long as you’re consistent about it, people will decide that’s just your way of being weird.

        As for the dress…

        I used my sloper top (which you helped fit, with your good suggestions, even though getting it from Betsy, my fitting model, onto flat paper was *not* fun) then matched it at the waist seam of the pattern I bought, using that for the skirt. I kinda think my sloper’s neckline is better for me than the lower neckline of the original pattern. (McCalls 6027)

  8. I hadn’t ever thought about it before, but I think you’re right about knits v. wovens & fancy smanciness. I’ve been thinking lately how almost all my RTW tops are knits. They’re so easy to put on it’s made me averse to sewing any top with a zipper. The only woven tops I have are button downs for business attire. Some knits can look more dressy, but it’s often with a modern cut, not a vintage one. I think people are just more used to seeing knits & unconsciously associating them with casual clothing- like tank tops & hoodies.

    • Yes, I think so. I was teaching knits once and someone finished her t-shirt and said “Oh! It looks like clothes!” and that’s stuck with me…

  9. Interesting. Well, I live in New York and so I guess is is nearly opposite. I tend to avoid wearing knits to work (except for the occasional T-shirt under a jacket). Knits are mostly weekend and home clothes for me. In this city, I would not be too surprised to see someone doing their grocery shopping in formalwear. ; ) However, when I used to live in a west coast beach town, that was all different. I remember someone asking me why I was dressed up one day when I wore an oversized (woven) shirt and flats instead of the usual t-shirt and sneakers to work there…

  10. On a general level, I see what you mean about the formal nature of wovens, but I’ve got lots of knits that are dressy. I think a lot of it comes down to styling – flats vs heels, casual necklace vs pearls…

    And yes, I have had times where I felt a struggle to dress my age. It seemed as a teen I was picking a lot of button up shirts that would have worked in a professional environment. Finding something suitable for Grade 8 graduation was pretty awful. Little girl dresses didn’t suit the teen look I wanted (and bust I was starting to grow into) and things made for women looked… kinda trashy and the prices were more than my mom wanted to pay for something I’d wear a couple of times.

    • Yes, I see that.

      Uuuuugh dressing as a teenager, especially a younger teen, is so hard. There’s just so much that’s trash… That’s why I get so happy when I see Tanit Isis’ sewing for her girls. :) I hope I get to sew for Lila at that age, too..

      • Or better still, Lila will be sewing for herself by then maybe? :) I have a 13 and 16 yr old in my Master Class next week, both are going to draft their own dress pattern – eep! But at that age, they are so quick to learn and with Lila’s up bringing she may well ahve her own label by 13! Cupcake? ;-)

  11. Yes, for whatever reason, wovens read as “dressy” and knits as “casual.” I am still more comfortable in a woven tee than in a knit tee. It’s something to do with the Sloppiness Factor, and is more a generational thing for me personally. My daughter prefers to fit her hourglass curves with knits. I prefer to fit my shape with darts. It makes each of us look as if she is “dressing her age.” I dread the day I overhear someone talk about me with whatever is the modern equivalent of the phrase “mutton dressed as lamb.” Or, is that phrase still in use? I don’t live in a part of the world where sheep are commonly raised. We see more llamas and goats than sheep, more cows than either of those, and mostly horses.

    • I really enjoy your sense of humor Lin. ;) Does anyone use that term anymore? I mean, I do hear people saying things like they don’t want to look like cows dressed as heifers (see it doesn’t work as well) but I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone say that about someone else.

      I like woven tees, too. Especially in the dead of summer, so nice and cool.

  12. I’d never thought about the dressy factor, but I think.. yes? I do notice odd looks every now and then, and comments of ‘aren’t you dresed nicely!’, but while I feel more comfortable in knits for ease of wearing, I feel more comfortable about the way I look in wovens, so I tend to stick with them whenever I can, and everyone else can go hang. Added advantage, if we’re going somewhere Nice, I can just wear my normal clothes :)
    I havent found many problems dressing myself appropriately, but I’m finding issues with my kids – the girl more than the boy, but still with him too. If I didn’t sew, I’d have a lot of trouble dressing them appropriately.

    • Yes. That’s my general outlook, too… That I like what I like, and it’s not really my fault if others don’t like it. I just got tired of being judged for what I wear. It’s weird, isn’t it? :)

      Why is it hard to dress a girl appropriately? I’m just clueless… I do find it weird how leggings as pants seems to be acceptable for little girls… I don’t mean leggings with tunics or dresses. Quite odd.

      • My daughters “tunics” this year turned out to hit her at the bend of her hip. Because everyone needs to stare at my 8yo’s rear end. -screams- As soon as girls get past 6x in RTW clothes … it’s just bad, Steph. Really bad. (And my daughter adores leggings).

      • The crazy amount of short-shorts for girls is pretty disturbing. Little-little girls stuff is usually ok, though I had to take back a couple pairs once because I could see her undies hanging out (for a 2year old? SO WRONG).. but once they reach the preteen sizing, which starts at 6ish, its all buttcheeks and bellies. They seem to go from pink&frilly&frothy&sparkles to black-and-short-with-words-written-on-the-butt with no inbetween.
        Theres a similar cuttoff for boys, where they go from teddy bears and trains and skulls and surfboards overnight. My very tall at-the-time-4-yr-old was too big to fit in the trucks&trains shirts, and far FAR to young to be wearing a t-shirt with a worm-eyed skull on it.. we had a lot of trouble clothing him for a couple of years.

  13. Interesting question about knits vs wovens. As someone from the same general area and climate, I’m not sure my experience is the same as yours. Perhaps that’s because Northern NSW is full of hippies wearing homespun garments. I find I wear more wovens because they are cooler (of course in Hobart at the moment I wear more knits because they feel cosier). A knit dress in summer in Mullumbimby is too hot for me to wear whereas a woven will hang away from my body and giving me breathing space. I agree with you about being pigeonholed. I don’t sit fully in any of the RTW categories, not to mention the fact that I wear things that some parts of the fashion world say a woman of my advanced years shouldn’t. In response to your response to LinB; yes I use the term ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ a lot, mainly because I am paranoid about looking like that. It’s often the first question I ask my staff of wonderful women when I wear a new outfit to work. It’s interesting that many younger women are concerned about being covered when so much of the fashion I see is just the opposite. It’s good that women have choice these days. I remember a time when there was little choice and many women went around dressed in high fashion that didn’t fit or didn’t suit. These days women seem to be much more aware of what works for them.

    • Oh, thank you, Carol! It’s nice to have confirmation that someone else, somewhere in the world, still speaks the same idiom. My daughter’s friends tolerate me, but she says they are forever asking her, “What was your mother talking about?”

  14. Australians are very casual dressers and knits say “casual, relaxed and not trying too hard” a lot better than wovens. I much prefer sewing with woven fabrics. I am fascinated with tailoring and pattern engineering, but I need to find ways to wear all the lovely things I’ve designed and not succumb to just throwing on a sloppy top and leggings. It’s hard! Guess what I’m wearing now? T shirt and yoga pants!

  15. I think you’re totally right about wovens vs. knits–I think particularly if you lean towards vintage shapes. Colorado is ULTRA-casual (though people do wear very fancy running garb), so wearing any kind of dress or skirt makes you stick out. Going through pregnancies right now in my life, knits are a lot easier to deal with. I have multiple knit dresses I can wear now even at 6 months pregnant without alteration, and I still feel pretty and feminine etc. But beyond pregnancy, having kids puts a lot of stress on your wardrobe. I’d be heartbroken if I had to toss out a piece of my good hard work because it got spit-up, food, mud, or any number of volatile substances that multiple boys fling at you in a given day. Knit dresses really are just big long, much more stylish t-shirts, and they launder up that way. So as DVF says, feel like a woman, wear a dress, than throw it in the wash without fear.

  16. I find for me that how dressy I feel in a dress is dependent on the fabric. The Giverny dress is one that I never feel overdressed in…I often wear it with Van style shoes! The Cafe Crème dress is completely the opposite…I always feel more formal in that one. And I have a RTW jersey maxi that I’ve worn to the park and out to a less formal restaurant and it’s been appropriate in both places…just accessorized differently.

    I do think Tira will get a lot of mileage because it can be dressed up or down, and won’t gap like a traditional wrap dress which can be a bit risky at the school gate on a blustery day! ;-)

  17. I’m so excited about this dress pattern! I think I’m going to play around with lining the bodice (just to the tip of the shoulder) and the midriff band, and attaching a slip to the inside. It’s getting colder, and jersey sticks so bad to leggings. I think it’ll make a nice peplum top in a softer ponte, as well.

    Of course, that all hinges on me stopping playing on the internet, and getting all my homework done so I can sew without guilt. :)

  18. I iron knits – OK so call me mad or whatever but I do…. and little Miss wears knit pants outside the house – but with a long tunic top.

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