1950s · Sewing

Beautiful Dress (part one)

So let’s talk about Dita, or more specifically, What I Wore when the High Priestess came to Sydney. 

I wanted something out of the ordinary for this show – both because it was Dita, but also because it was at the State Theatre, which is one of the most gorgeous venues we have in Sydney. For anyone not familiar with my beloved hometown, Sydney has a long history of tearing down the old and beautifully built and replacing it with the shiny and shoddy.  You can count on two hands the gorgeous old buildings that still stand, or are still held in public hands – and quite a few of those are only standing because of Union Bans (thank you Mr Mundey). So a night out at The State Theatre means pulling out all the stops on the dress front.  I needed something that exuded old world glamour, something elegant and classy, with a 40s/50s aesthetic.  Many many nights were spent hunched over patterns, leafing through images of vintages dresses, and raking through the fabric stash. 

I eventually decided on using one of my favourite pieces of fabric, a beautiful black satin with large roses burnt out of it. It’s a fabric I’ve been saving for an incredibly special occasion – the day Viggo Mortensen comes to his senses and takes me out to dinner for instance. I knew it needed a fairly spectacular pattern – something full skirted to show off the drape of the fabric, and highlight the rose pattern throughout. 

I spent more hours than a girl should dreaming about the perfect dress, and how I might make it.  Leafing through old screen shots, I remembered this beautiful dress…

Emily Hallman Red Dress

Image courtesy of Emily Hallman designs 

… made by the exceptionally talented Emily Hallman (who also has fabulous taste in shoes).  I love both the fabric Emily made this dress from, but also the style of the dress as well. It’s Vogue 8789, which is a pattern I’ve not yet added to the collection. I ordered it online, it arrived in the mail a couple of days later and I set about tissue tracing. Because I am an impatient seamstress (but also because I make 80% of the clothes I wear) I’ve stopped making calico muslins where possible.  I tissue fit the pattern, and then cut the garment in a cheaper fabric, and do a test run or wearable muslin.


I had a bright pink paisley (not quite) cotton that I loved the print of, so decided to make the dress in this first.  I’d bought miles of this fabric, so had about 4 panels to gather into a full skirt. Now I am a girl who thinks a skirt cannot be full enough, so was more than happy to hunch over 4 panels of gathering.  It was slow sewing while I attached the skirt to the bodice, but I love how full this skirt is. I’ll probably be arrested for indecent exposure the next time there’s a gust of wind, but what the hell, the skirt is fabulous. 

While the skirt was a dream, the bodice was a little more tricky. And this is where social media comes into its own – you can check the fit on other women, thanks to Instagram!  No one else had the “neckline drape” that I did, so I decided some creative pinning was in store, eventually sewing two large darts in the front down to the bust.  


You can see one of the darts to the left of the image, splicing right through one of the paisleys.


While there is a tweak or two needed in the next version of this dress, all in all I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out.  That said, there was something about this dress that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, and I realised this was not the dress to make for Dita. It was back to the drawing board for this Impatient Seamstress.

(to be continued….)


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