Shirtwaist Extremes

I finished two shirtwaist dresses this week.  One in cozy plaid flannel and the other in crisp cool cotton broadcloth. The flannel is perfect for the cold arctic blast that we are getting here in Michigan and the cotton dress is all set for my January escape plan!  

(If this were a movie this is the part where the focus goes all soft and fuzzy and the voice-over would say "when I was a wee girl....")

The first dress I ever made was a shirt dress out of olive green kettle cloth.  It had a collar with a collar band, front button plackets, breast pockets with button flaps, cuffs, a million buttons up the front....pretty ambitious for a first dress!  My mom guided me through the whole process...cutting the pattern pieces, miles of top-stitching, button holes, set in sleeves...I was trimming the armscye seam and...disaster...I cut a biggo chunk right out of the back shoulder of the dress!  πŸ˜’😒😒😒😒😒😒

It was the best thing I ever did!  

I didn't think so at the time.  At the time I was heart broken.  All my beautiful work, ruined!  It's a moment that could have soured even a veteran sewist's enthusiasm.  I give my mom all the credit for what happened next and my lifelong love affair with fabric and thread.  

In my memory, I'm a sobbing mess, but my mom is calm and collected.  She survey's the situation and hatches a brilliant plan.  She helped me cut out two tabs that had points and top stitching, we inserted one end into the sleeve seam and the pointed end stuck out onto the shoulder covering the gaping hole on one side and adding the needed 'design element' to balance the other side!  We added buttons at the points just to make sure they looked like they were part of the plan all along.  It was perfect!

I can't begin to count the lessons those little green shoulder tabs taught me that day.  About 'getting back on the horse,' 'thinking outside the box,'  'being the best mom ever,'  ' making lemonade,'  'two heads being better,'....And I thank my mom every time I sew a seam inside out, or cut two right fronts, or forget a hem allowance, or...whatever dumb thing...I think about my kettle cloth shirtwaist dress and I...

Keep Calm and Design My way out it!

So hunkering down for a couple of snowy days and top stitching collar points, and making a million button holes kind of felt like getting back to my creative roots.  And I didn't even have to cut a hole in anything to do it!

First the flannel...

When I was at OSKA in Chicago I got a great knitted vest.  I love their over-sized silhouettes  and interesting design details.  I tried the vest on with a very full flannel dress that I really liked but of course the sleeves were way too short.  I kept thinking about it and decided to make my own version.  The fabric that I found is soft and drapy and the plaid is even, bonus!!!!  Even so, with all the matching I didn't have quite enough to get all of the pieces, so the under collar, cuff facings, and hem facings are done with a contrasting cotton.  (shades of kettle cloth shoulder tabs!)  I used brass snaps and added an elastic belt across the back to control a bit of the fullness.  

It's just the ticket for the cold snowy weather we are having right now.

Next, the cotton...

I  decided to escape to Key West this coming January.  Just after making the arrangements last summer I found, what else???? Key West fabric!!!  I think it was a sign.  I went around and around trying to decide what to do with it, a camp shirt?  a skirt?  a tote bag?  shorts?  but the print was crying out to be a 1950's inspired shirtwaist dress.  It's going to be just perfect!

Cool, crisp and ready for the sunshine!  
                          But, for now, the flannel is feeling pretty comfy!


  1. Love, love, love shirtwaist dresses, flannel plaids, and the good memories of a mother's guidance.

    1. If we had thrown that green dress away I might not be sewing today and I definitely wouldn't be as 'free-wheeling!' ;)

  2. The under collar and inside the cuffs – the fabric is a real spark. I too am a fan of OSKA but their clothes never fit me never fit me so I make my own! The flannel looks so cozy and the Key West fabric is a hoot. Just perfect for a beach holiday.

    1. Now that the dress is ready I'm getting kind of anxious, too!

  3. Loved reading your story of first-time disaster. Once again, Mom to the rescue and your lifetime of sewing. I well remember kettle cloth sewing lots of garments for myself and my little girls. Your dresses are well made and will, no doubt, get lots of wear.

    1. My Mom was my first sewing teacher and inspiration. She made lots of my clothes growing up and still uses her great design eye to make amazing art quilts.