My Very 40s, Embroidered Dress

Hey peeps!

It was hard only giving you the smallest sneak peek at my new dress yesterday; I wanted to post up all of my pics immediately but I always have to wait until my post is up over on Sew Weekly first since I made it for their weekly theme.

My dress got posted up on Sew Weekly yesterday in one of their feature spots for the 1940’s theme!  I never want to boast, but I get tickled & excited whenever this happens.

 In general, I have a completely different write-up on my blog vs. the one over at Sew Weekly.  I like to give you all something fresh and different to read than what goes up on SW.  It is double the work, but what’s good is that I find I never run short on things to say.  But I have to say, my other post is worth the read for the back story alone.

The construction of this dress was quite disjointed; I did work on the bulk of it very recently but also did some work on it 8 months prior.

I did the muslin last fall in a double-knit fabric (which was a mistake!) and when I tried on my constructed skirt piece last year it was too tight.  I had mistakenly thought that wool crepe was stretchy which was a very *duh* moment for me.  The bodice still worked on me today, although it is a bit short.  

I started around Wednesday last week dismantling the skirt drape & front skirt from the skirt back at the side seams.  I then re-cut the skirt back piece with my newly acquired fabric and lots of extra ease just in case.  (Read the back story here.)  After a bit of modifications I rejoined it to the front skirt for a superb fit.

On Thursday/Friday I cut and assembled all of the lining pieces and on Saturday I started in on the embroidery.

After having this project sit for over 1/2 a year on one of my dining room chairs, it didn’t have that *wow* factor for me anymore.  This is when I began devising of ways to embellish it and asked for your help with embroidery.  I ended up using the resource that Lladybird Lauren recommended, the Hoop Love flickr group.

Having a super long weekend, thanks to NATO being in town, I had a full 4 days to work on my dress, and nothing else.  Without this extra time I don’t think I would have been able to finish it up in time with all of the hand stitching that went into the bodice.

I used this transfer pattern from hoop love which is perfect for a beginner like me.  I only used three different stitches on it; I used a basic running stitch for the cream lines, did a daisy stitch for the flowers, and did french knots for the flower stamens.  In order to create a bit of dimension for the embroidery I used 4 different shades of yellow, keeping in the mustard family for that vintage quality it has.

I honestly love how it turned out.  I’m a sucker for multimedia projects; where more than one skill is combined to create a piece.  I’ve had it on my to-do list for quite a while: to combine knitting with sewing, but it seems that embroidery fit the bill here.  :)

As you saw in my preview yesterday, I added a hint of embroidery to the back of the belt.

It’s just a hint of design on the belt but the back was so plain vs. the front I thought it needed a bit more visual interest.

If I were to embellish a sewing project again (which I hope to do), I’m still not sure which would be better: 1.) Doing the Embroidery first on the flat piece of fabric and cutting the bodice around it or 2.) Doing the embroidery on the (nearly) constructed bodice.  Anyone have any thoughts on this front to share?

Random Thoughts & Details:

I lined the dress in a coordinating shade of rayon bemberg.  The wool crepe is a bit to sheer for my liking and really benefits from the silky smooth layer underneath.  Sadly this makes it a fall/winter dress, but I’m looking forward to wearing it again in the fall with some fun mustard colored tights.

I stitched in some (Liz-made) shoulder pads.  Normally I hate shoulder pads since they look so 80’s, plus I’m on the petite side and I don’t want to look like a football player.  But this dress without shoulder pads looks horrible!  It looks as if my shoulders are melting away from my neck.  heh  I knew this going in after making my muslin.

The pattern came with pattern pieces to make your own shoulder pads.  I sewed them together and realized that the depth of pad that they anticipated would have made me look like a football player.  I ended up scrapping them and decided instead to recover the shoulder pads I took out of my refashioned polka dot dress.  (That refashion really has gone full circle now since nothing was wasted.)  I took off the white cover to the shoulder pads and used it as a pattern to cut out new covers with my navy bemberg so they wouldn’t show through.

One thing I did was a side seam lapped zipper using instructions from one of my 40’s sewing reference books.  And I have to say… I will never insert a zipper that was ever again.  It was crazy impossible and don’t wish to burden any of you with that pain.  I’ve done it other ways before without nearly so much trouble… So it can be done painlessly, but this was not one of the ways.  :|


I have no idea how but I got my automatic buttonholer to work on one of my sewing machines!  I still don’t know how…  But this dress now has beautiful, perfect buttonholes and it was a cinch, kinda.

The one issue I ran into was that the foot on the buttonholer was shredding my wool fabric.  So in order to slide in my fabric to the buttonholer foot plate guy, I held some plastic wrap firmly over the fabric and then slid out the plastic wrap once it was in place.

Between you and me, the top buttonhole got a bit wonky or askew.  But when buttoned up no one is the wiser, so I won’t tell if you don’t.  :)


True to form, I stabilized both sides of the button band (via the neckline facing piece) along with both sides of the zipper with a black silk organza.

Bow Belt:

For my bow belt, I went off on a tangent from the pattern directions.  The pattern wanted me to double knot the belt at the front to create the bow, but this added tons of bulk and resulted in a shoddy looking bow.

Taking charge with my new buttonholer, I decided to add in a buttonhole near the base of one of the bows on the belt.  This coupled with a belt loop made for the perfect bow belt that was shown on the pattern envelope.

In essence, the buttonhole is acting like a buckle would; it keeps the fabric taught.  The right-hand bow feeds through the buttonhole and then the belt loop is scooched over to sit right on top of the buttonhole.  I really like the easy construction of this belt and no tools are needed what so ever.  I think I may make a few more in different colors now.  :)

All in all, I’m terribly thrilled that I was actually able to finish this dress.  I had given it up as a *fail* project but never had the heart to discard it nor could I think of what to do with it.  I’m already pondering tackling another one of my *failed* projects to see if I can make it work, namely a 30’s purple wool 10-gore skirt using the Dubarry 1884b pattern.  Who knew that gores and me just don’t mix?!  heh

In: Sewing

Blogger for 6 years and counting, I am a passionate creator who loves to tinker.

Comments (35)

  1. Lindsay May 23, 2012 — 10:38 AM

    I love the embroidery! It really makes the dress!

  2. Lauren May 23, 2012 — 10:43 AM

    I’m so glad you were able to salvage this – it’s hands-down, my absolute FAVORITE thing you’ve made! The style just looks sooo good on you, and the embroidery was the perfect touch! And I love it with your little hat! Eeep you’re just so cute :)

    Regarding your embroidery question: I cut my pattern pieces out first, staystitch all the edges, and embroidery directly onto that. If you made a muslin, you should have a good idea of where exactly to place the embroidery when you cut out the pattern piece. The smaller size makes it easier to handle for embroidering on the go :)

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:51 PM

      Awww thanks Lauren!

      Since I already had the bodice constructed I had to work around the seams and the lining even which was a pain. I think your way of doing it is far better!

  3. Tasha May 23, 2012 — 10:44 AM

    Breathtaking! What an amazing result for something you were ready to toss in the towel on. That has got to be the best feeling! I love all the little details and appreciate that you show the insides and everything. The embroidery really adds a special little touch that is just so perfect! It’s a great accent to the darker dress, and I love how you added the bit at the back of the belt…ingenious belt construction too, btw. I totally thought it was tied around your waist, but that’s so much better/less prone to look wonky. So great!

    (I have to figure out what’s up with my Sew Weekly feed. I used to get all the posts and now I only get sporadic ones, and only the “Make This Look”. It didn’t really even dawn on me until now, I need to fix that!)

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:58 PM

      Thanks Tasha! :)

      The Sew Weekly has two different rss feeds: one for the main site with Make this looks and another for the contributor creations.

  4. Sue May 23, 2012 — 10:50 AM

    This is AMAZING! I especially love the bodice – everything about it. The little tucks at the shoulders, the neckline, the sleeves, the EMBROIDERY you added. It’s all perfect!

    I wonder about the 1940s zipper instructions you used…when I come across instructions in vintage sewing resources, I sometimes find myself thinking, “has someone come up with a better way to do this since this was written?” Who knows, but I guess it’s something to keep in mind – vintage advice, like any other, is not always 100% tried-and-true…sometimes it’s just outdated, I guess. :-/

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:52 PM

      The zipper tool me at least 1 hour to put in! I wanted to do a lapped zipper and the 40’s directions did it without adding in the zipper facing piece which I hate doing. It was a long-shortcut which I won’t be repeating in the future.

  5. this is gorgeous! that embroidery really sets it off. i was going to ask whether you would embroider first and then sew or sew first and embroider. perhaps transferring the embroidery design onto the pattern piece so you could ensure it was in the right place if you tissue fit would work>? i would worry that i would embroider first and then it wouldn’t look right when i made it up!

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:54 PM

      Thanks Joanne! Since I did a muslin, I think I would have been able to do the embroidery in the order that Lauren suggested: Do the stay stitching so you know where the seams are and then do the embroidery on the flat piece of fabric before stitching it up.

      If you didn’t do a muslin first, I’d wait till the end to transfer your embroidery image to your piece.

  6. maddie May 23, 2012 — 11:35 AM

    I saw you on Sew Weekly! Congrats! I love the dress. It is such a modern take on an old silhouette

  7. Ginger May 23, 2012 — 11:36 AM

    Liz!! This is AMAZING! I LOVE it– hands’ down my favorite thing you’ve ever made! The color, the fit, the style, the embroidery– everything is perfect!

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:55 PM

      Awww thanks! I really like this dress to but for me it’s a toss up between this dress and my nautical striped dress for favs. This one is certainly more wearable on a daily basis! :)

  8. Shannon May 23, 2012 — 11:49 AM

    Absolutely lovely!

  9. Lisa May 23, 2012 — 12:56 PM

    Wow – gorgeous!!!! What an inspiration!!!! I think I see some embroidery in my future…..

    Congratulations on a beautiful dress!

  10. Marie May 23, 2012 — 5:04 PM

    Oh my, this dress is perfect in every way! The style and the drape of your fabric are stunning and your embroidered details are so special! LOVE IT!!!

  11. Liz, I honestly love this dress. The embroidery really makes it – so I very glad that you are pleased with it as well. I definitely need to give embroidery a try again.

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:55 PM

      Thanks Annabelle! :)

  12. Jo May 23, 2012 — 8:58 PM

    Wow, this rocks and is stunning. I’ve wanted to incorporate embroidery into a project, and you’ve done it so well. It doesn’t look jarring, or added in, it just looks like it’s perfectly part of the dress. It’s soo beautiful, congrats! :D

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:57 PM

      Thanks so much Jo! You made my day. :)

  13. KWu May 24, 2012 — 1:07 PM

    The back detail on the belt was brilliant, really adds a lovely extra touch to it. Also, who knew that shoulder pads actually have their place in the world?!

    1. Liz May 24, 2012 — 4:57 PM

      I am just as surprised as you are with the shoulder pads! I don’t think you can even tell that they’re in there without me saying so… the dress bodice hangs nicely only because they’re there! Crazy huh?!

  14. Suzy May 24, 2012 — 1:22 PM

    Absolutely gorgeous!

  15. Amanda May 25, 2012 — 7:52 AM

    You look amazing and that dress is fabulous! You can really pull off the 40s.

  16. […] week’s spotlighted creation goes to Liz from I’m such a sucker for hand embroidery. Please notice I typed […]

  17. I am part of a large group of swing dancers in Australia many of whom like to make their own dance dress’s. Just love the belt idea – and intend to share it and your blog with my dancing friends through our newsletter – and maybe we can all get inspired to get out our embroidery needles again – and revisit what at least for me, was a skill I learned in childhood some 50 years ago.

  18. kata May 26, 2012 — 6:34 PM

    Gorgeous dress. The embroidery is so elegantly done too!

  19. Jess May 28, 2012 — 3:26 AM

    This is so stunning! I love the pop of colour from the embroidery. I’d suggest a slight variation on Lauren’s advice. Rather than cutting out the piece and then embroidering it, I’d transfer the cutting/seam lines (using a marking pen or tacking), then do the embroidery. That way you’ve got a larger piece of fabric, which makes it easier to mount it in an embroidery hoop, and it also avoids the risk of the edges of the fabric fraying too much while you’re embroidering.

  20. I am so glad you decided to finish this dress – it is GORGEOUS! The embroidery really makes it special – all of that extra work really paid off in the end.

  21. Inna June 6, 2012 — 9:53 PM

    Oh Liz! You should be starring in some 40s Hollywood movie! The embroidery adds such a romantic touch to the dress!

  22. Meg June 7, 2012 — 4:20 PM

    Good gracious, I just love this dress. It’s my favorite thing you’ve made EVER and I love love love that last picture of you. Positively stunning!!

  23. Domi June 22, 2012 — 4:07 AM

    Lovely wowwwwww, congratulation !!!

  24. cathy February 20, 2013 — 1:27 PM

    just found your blog from the colleterie… all i can say is WOW! The macaron redux, the nautical, and this 40s embroidered dress! i was actually thinking about embroidering something as well and now you’ve given me the final confirmation that it is what i want to do. great job!

  25. Sarah February 6, 2014 — 7:52 PM

    It’s always nice finishing something that you had sort of given up on. I love the detail on the back of the belt! It ties is so beautifully with the embroidery on the neckline and really is the perfect finishing touch.

    I stumbled across your blog yesterday and just wanted to say that your content is wonderful!

  26. […] you seen Liz’s gorgeous hand embroidery on her 40’s inspired dress? Stunning! Lauren’s embroidered Ceylon dress is totally amazing too! (Awesome work, Ladies! […]

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