Making my perfect vintage shirt dress: McCall’s M6891

One of my favourite staples of a vintage-inspired wardrobe is a shirt dress: they are versatile and effortless. I have one of the classic Collectif Caterina dresses but I have been wanting to make my own for a very long time. So, when I saw this cotton check in Fabricland maybe a year ago, I knew exactly what I wanted to make from it. I had a look through the pattern books in the shop and settled on McCall’s M6891, it had the perfect simple shape I was after.

Fabric and notions.

It took me ages to get started on this project; between impromptu Victorian projects and projects for my friends and family, it just kept getting shunted down the list. However, at the start of May, I finally pulled the fabric out of my stash.

I decided to get started with pattern alterations straight away to make this my perfect shirt dress. I cut out a size 16 bodice according to my measurements but I decided to cut out a size 24 skirt for extra swooshability. This was a really successful move and I would definitely do it again. As this pattern has a very distinct check pattern, I really wanted to challenge myself with pattern matching. I made sure I had a stripe running down the centre back from the collar all throgh the skirt, a stripe at the centre front, and a very close chevron pattern match on the skirt side seams. I also made sure to have a stripe in the centre of the sleeves. All this meant that it took twice as long to cut out all the pattern pieces but it was definitely worth it!

Pattern matching.

I made quick work of getting the darts and first part of the bodice assembled as I know from experience that this is where I need a lot of fitting. After a preliminary fitting, I took 3/4″ off the top of the side seams, grading down to the waist, and re-trued the armscye. I also took 1/4″ in from the back darts and lengthened them to 28.5cm.

With this preliminary fit done, I moved on to the skirt. I had a flash of inspiration and decided to add contrast pockets. I had some beautiful floral cotton sateen fabric leftover from my Dad’s first waistcoat and I thought the dark palette was a perfect match. The pockets are an absolute plus side of this pattern, they are a great size!

Next, I sewed up the skirt seams and gathered the skirt to fit the bodice. I was really happy with the pattern match on the skirt seams, the chevrons don’t match perfectly but they are close enough for me!

With the dress starting to look like a dress, I moved on to the collar. I had been warned by someone on Instagram that the collar was a bti tricky so I went in slightly nervous. It was definitely a construction method I wasn’t familiar with. Whereas on other projects, I would’ve made the collar then sewn on the lapel, this pattern has you sew the lapel facing and collar together, sew the under collar to the dress, then sew them right sides together. I didn’t have too much trouble with this, with the exception of where it seems to suggest that you should collar to the lapel right to the end, I found this made the seam get caught up and not able to fold out flat. I undid up to that point (see where seam ripper is pointing to) and this worked. Next time, I might try the other method that I’m more familiar with.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that I realised my bodice still had a number of fit issues. When I tried the dress on, expecting a perfect fit, I was very disappointed to find that the waist was too big and the bodice too long. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, I worked really hard on the preliminary fit, perhaps the weight of the skirt changed things but never mind! To fix the issue, I took apart the dress, then:

  • took approximately 1 inch off the bodice length
  • lengthened the front darts by 3.5cm and increased the width by 1/4″
  • widened the back darts by 1cm

I also realised at this point that the armscye is about an inch too low. This isn’t the end of the world, it just restricts my movement a bit. I’ll change this if I make the dress again.

With these fit changes made, I was finally back on track, with just closures and hems to do. As with my other projects, I decided to sew my buttonholes by hand. However, this time around I chose to elevate my buttonholes by using silk thread! I mildly overreacted to thinking that I had bought the wrong colour thread and consulted instagram but I decided it was fine in the end. I also had a conundrum about whether to use single or double strand thread but, again after consulting Instagram, I went with double strand. I think it looks fuller and more professional.

With the hems complete and closures sewn (plus a sneaky popper at the waistband), the dress was finally finished! I wore it out the day after I finished it to a picnic at Alexandra Palace and I have already concluded that it is my new favourite dress and my perfect shirt dress. It’s so comfortable and I love the pockets and swooshy skirt. I’m sure I’m going to be able to wear this dress all year round as well as the weight of the cotton means it’s light enough for Summer but the navy and orange colour palette is perfect for Autumn! Now that I’ve ironed out issues with the fit, I’m sure I’ll use this pattern again, perhaps a long sleeved version for winter?

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