This project is my entry for Julia Bobbin’s popular Mad Men Challenge. I’m a huge Mad Men fan and love seeing the costumes every week, so entering this popular challenge was a bit of a no-brainer for me.
The dress I chose was Betty’s cream and green shirt dress. I couldn’t find any references to which episode this is from, but I’ve seen it so many times online that I think it must actually be a promo shot for the first series. It’s more late fifties than early sixties and embodies Betty’s conservative housewife look from the first half of that series. If you know which episode this is from, leave me a comment and let me know.
I’m starting with a sheet that I got from Oxfam in Streatham. I paid £4.99 for the single sheet and two matching pillowcases, which have green ruffles all the way around!
It’s made of actual linen, the thin refined sort (none of your thick slubby stuff) and handles beautifully.
The sheet had a couple of labels with numbers on glued onto it. Anyone know what these might have been for?
Let’s take a closer look at Betty’s dress. The top half is like a blouse, buttoning one side over the other. There are small, dark buttons. The stripy fabric has been tucked several times to bring the stripes closer together on the bodice front. The bodice darts are pointing inwards – towards each other – which is unusual! They are cutting off the tucked section. The collar has a horizontal stripe. There’s a bit of green visible around the arms. No sleeves. The skirt is very full and is box pleated, rather than gathered, with the green stripes on the top. There is a matching green belt with a small buckle.
I drafted a very basic pattern for this using my block. A little dart manipulation here, add a placket there, grow on a facing… hey presto! I copied the collar and collar stand from a blouse that I already own. I just used my basic back block for the back.
Next… the stripes! The wider green stripes were about 2.5 cm and the thin stripes were about 0.5 cm. The plan was to add these together using tucks to create a solid green area on the front bodice. The green area couldn’t be wider than 9 cm, which was the horizontal distance between the dart tip and the edge of my button area (2 cm from centre front)…
…so I figured that three big stripes plus two small stripes would make 8.5 cm total, and be about right. I tore off a length of sheet long enough for both left and right fronts and started tucking.
Because I overlapped the green stripes ever so slightly when taking my tucks (to make sure no white was showing), I ended up with a green section of around 8 cm.
I folded my tucked material in half lengthways, making sure the stripes matched all the way up, and cut out my fronts.
I placed the collar along a thick green stripe and the collar stand on a white stripe (thin stripe below is in seam allowance).
Here’s a quick in-progress shot of the bodice. A happy coincidence has left a thin green stripe up the inside of each button placket. I love it! The original plan was to have the buttons go all the way to the neck, like Betty does, but I decided this thin green stripe was too good to lose.
Another in-progress shot. You can see below I’ve added the skirt. I made box pleats around the thick green stripes but unfortunately there wasn’t enough material to make it all green at the waist! It was only a single sheet, after all. The result is not the fullest of full skirts, but still has a fifties vibe about it. The hem of the skirt is the bottom of the sheet.
There’s a long zip up one side which unfortunately isn’t visible.
I also added bias binding around the armholes. FYI, you have to make one piece of binding inside out in order to get a pair that are symmetrical.
The final steps were to add five small green buttons, and to make a belt. I interfaced a long thick green stripe and folded the edges back, using iron on glue rather than risk any topstitching. I had to buy a belt buckle but it wasn’t expensive and adds a great finishing touch.
Before you say it – there was no room for a petticoat or crinoline under this dress! I did try it with a full petticoat and it looked silly, because the skirt isn’t full enough, you get a kind of bell-shape. Without the petticoat it doesn’t quite have the full-on fifties shape but I think I did reasonably well considering I only had a single sheet. Given that I’ll likely wear this on hot summer days, I won’t be layering up the skirt then anyway.
I’m delighted with it, in case you can’t tell from these pictures. The linen is beautifully soft and very comfortable to wear.