After many years of sewing, I have learned that styles that favor my shape are those that de-emphasize the waist. I have broad shoulders, big boobs, no defined waist, and narrow hips, so I need designs that flatter my upper body while creating balance with my lower body. This is why I love A-line dresses; they do an exceptional job of working with my proportions. In my collection of A-line dress patterns, there is nothing that compares to Simplicity 3833, a sassy 60s retro mini dress with super fun design lines.
I rediscovered Simplicity 3833 after a sewing heartbreak. I sewed a muslin for Colette’s Dahlia, and it was a disaster. The dress is beautiful, but it was so not for me. I was really bummed out as I thought the Dahlia would be such a great addition to my TNT patterns. In my sorrow, I needed a sure-thing next project. Just like a best friend who knows exactly what to say when you are down, Simplicity 3833 was there for me when I needed it most.
Simplicity 3833 is a vintage A-dress pattern with details added by the front darts, front seam, and topstitching (which I did not do). The front darts start in the bodice and continue into the skirt—like a modified version of a French dart. This pattern has been around for quite some time. I made it once before, but my poor selection of fabric made it look like a Halloween costume. I knew it fits really well on my body; I just needed to sew it in a fabric that did not look like the 70s threw up on a pumpkin.
I found many beautiful versions of the dress to provide me with inspiration: SewDIY used denim and green topstitching for her version; Sewing the 60s added a cute collar to her retro creation; Meg’s Creative Meanderings highlighted the bodice details with color-blocking; A Sewing Life elevated the pattern with some really fancy fabrics. Rosie Wednesday has a sew-along that is really detailed and a great resource for those who need more guidance.
I had this vision of the dress made out of a back, textured fabric. I looked online and found a few options as inspiration. During a visit to Mood, I found a perfect black cotton pique for the job. The fabric does not scream summer, but I knew that with this pattern, I needed something with a bit of structure. I may not be able to wear it when the sun is blazing, but this dress will be perfect for cooler summer nights or as a transition piece as summer turns into fall.
The first time I sewed this pattern, I selected a size 18. When the dress was ready, I made myself notes to remind me that I would have to size down the next time I sewed it. Since then, I gained some weight, so I immediately ignored my notes and moved one size up. I chose to sew a size 20—which would prove to be a very ill-advised decision. I learned an important lesson: Listen to what your past self has to say. There is wisdom in history.
I made a muslin and noticed that the front neckline was gaping. My quick fix to solve the problem came from the Phat Chick Designs blog. I took a 1/4 sliver from the center front, starting from the neckline and tapering to nothing. Unfortunately, having chosen a size 20, this alteration did not fully eliminate the gaping. Worse, I completely overlooked that the back neckline was gaping even more. I am sure, however, that I am the only person who will notice these issues.
The real mystery, however, is how the muslin felt snug, but the final dress had to be taken in. When I sewed the muslin, I even considered adding 1/4 inch to the sides seams, but I am so glad I did not do this. In the end, I had to take the side seams in by… 1/4! The only explanation I have is that the fabric I chose to use has a bit of stretch.
The most difficult step in sewing this dress is getting the darts right. I made a point to be very careful when transferring all the markings from the paper to the fabric. There are times when you can get away with not being precise; this pattern is not one of them. Sewing the darts will be a breeze if you transfer the markings correctly.
I have sewed enough Simplicity patterns to know that the armscye is way too low to allow me to move my arms. For the longest time, I could not figure out why I had issues with arm movement—until I saw Lynda Maynard’s Crafty (now Bluprint) class Sew the Perfect Fit. She has a cut-on gusset technique that has changed my life. Her class is amazing, but this one alteration is worth the price of the class. The whole process is not difficult but very detailed. After adding some length to the bodice seam, some fabric is added to the sleeve itself. The sleeve ends up looking a bit crazy, but the result is sewing magic.
Once the darts are done, the dress comes together quickly. I sewed the sleeves in flat—which I think is a much easier method when sewing shirts and dresses. I did not do any topstitching as I figured it would be a whole lot of work lost in the texture of the pique. All seams and hems are finished with the serger. I usually sew my hems by hand, but because the fabric has no much textured, I hemmed the dress using my sewing machine.
Goth Summer Project #2: Completed!
After warming up with the Bexley, this dress was the perfect follow-up. I wanted a little bit of challenge but nothing too complicated. The darts kept me alert without being too difficult. The dress does not scream summer, but the cotton breathes well. I might not be reaching for this one on hotter days, but I know I will get plenty of wear out of my 60s retro goth creation.