Too many times, heirlooms and special fabrics are packed away and saved for some undefined “day.” I inherited one long piece of silk a few years ago that had been someone’s treasure from right after World War II. The avid seamstress, my husband’s grandma, never cut it, always waiting for the perfect project. Almost 60 years later, I determined to use it promptly.
We happened to be planning to attend a festive holiday event that I should dress up for, so I chose a pattern for a simple gown. (Simplicity 5674) But first, I took the time to sew the dress up in an inexpensive cotton print, of similar weight and drape to the silk I had. That trial dress has been worn as much as the fancy one! (mostly by my daughters) I did skip putting the fabric rose on the trial dress, and we added a ribbon at the waist for most occasions. I finished the lining and skirt slip just the way I would for the formal dress. (The pattern is out of print, but I was able to find copies of it available online) (FYI, the links to the patterns are not to companies I have purchased things from)
Here is the silk dress:
I still have enough of the WWII silk left to make something like a pair of pants and shirt pajamas. I will always wonder what the original owner of the silk would have finally made with it.
Around the same time, my own grandma passed away and I was given a a colorful piece of cloth from Africa. This fabric had been a gift to Grandma from her younger sister, who lived all over the world due to her husband’s occupation with an oil company. Grandma did use it, but only as as something to protect the top of wood furniture. I saw it all the time when I visited and it brings back lovely memories of spending time at my grandparents house. BUT it doesn’t go with my decor!!
For a while, I was stumped. The fabric is not even what I would really call “my colors.” The border design was going to be challenging to work with and the piece was pretty small. I finally settled on a simple shift dress, Butterick pattern 4998, (also, out of print, but there are similar patterns in abundance). I altered the pattern to give it a slight flare at the bottom, to be able to accommodate the border. Any kind of circular cut for the hemline would have ruined the border, so I made a line from the waist to a point a few inches out past the designated pattern edge, hoping it wouldn’t hang too oddly.
I neglected to make a muslin or sample first AND I lost about 20 pounds between cutting it out and starting to sew, so I was extra careful to fit it during the sewing process. I ended up creating princess seams from the collar bones to the waist line:
- I pinned the excess out while it was on me,
- drew lines with tailors chalk on the inside following the line of pins,
- then basted it to try it on again.
The result was quite acceptable and will be a fun, functional dance dress:
So, I encourage you:
- Don’t be shy about using heirloom fabric
- Make a muslin AND a sample garment first
- Be creative with your pattern in order to use your fabric to the best effect
And you know you will have a one-of-a-kind dress!
(This book is a good resource for sewing a muslin)