Vintage Inspired Fancy Nancy Dress

My dear friend Nancy asked me if I would be willing to make her a dress to wear to a wedding she and her husband were going to in England. My reply was “Of course! I’d be delighted to!”. So the journey began!

She wanted to use her wedding gown to remake into a dress to wear to the wedding. How special is that! Her gown was made of silk duppioni and there was plenty of it to work with. The only issue was that it had never been cleaned since her wedding (at least 12 years ago, maybe more) and had been stored with some stains on it. Of course we would need to dye it as well, and I have never dared to dye fabric before, let alone a keepsake wedding gown, so after some thought and debate, we decided to scrap the upcycled wedding dress idea and purchase new fabric. This would save time in the long run, plus spare the wedding gown in case I were to completely mess it up (what me, mess up? Never!).

She loved the idea of wearing a girly dress; something fitted at the bodice and poufing out from the waist. We created a Pinterest board and shared ideas of wonderful dresses for inspiration.The dresses we swooned over were designer dresses in beautiful fabrics and feminine details such as pleats and tucks. And how wonderful it would be to also have pockets!

Here are some of our favorites:


So I searched and found a nice vintage pattern to use to make the dress. I found this Vogue pattern that was originally released in 1957 that she also loved:


Vintage Vogue Pattern 2903 Envelope


It featured a wide, face flattering off shoulder v-neckline, a nipped in waist, and lovely pleated skirt. The dress did not, however, include instructions for a full lining, or side seam pockets, so I added those features on my own.

With the pattern decided, let the fabric shopping begin! This was the fun part, as there are so many lovely fabrics out there that would be wonderful for this dress.

After about 578 swatches ordered (slight exaggeration), she chose a beautiful gold floral silk jacquard by designer Carolina Herrera purchased from Mood Fabrics website:


the magnificent silk jacquard Caroline Herrera fabric draped and pinned to my dress form

This fabric is amazingly beautiful! The gold really shimmers and catches the light as it moves, and the background color changes from a brown, to a purply-taupe, to a navy blue.

Once we had the main fabric, we headed out to Mill End Store in Milwaukie, Oregon to find a nice lining material. Together we chose a lovely navy silk twill to line the dress in. Later, as I was making the dress and installing the lining, I told her I almost like the lining as much as I like the dress! It really turned out beautifully and looked so luxurious.

So, I hunkered down and got to making the fitting muslin toile for her. The fitting went well and she was already happy with the shape and style of the dress so far:


As for the pattern fit, the list of changes I was to make were as follows:

  • no sleeve
  • take up at the shoulders
  • take in the bodice at the princess seam along bust line
  • take in at side seam of bodice
  • shorten entire hem length by 6″

And design additions and changes to the pattern included:

  • cut the center front panel out of one piece, eliminating the center front seam so not to “interrupt” the beautiful pattern on the fabric
  • add side seam pockets
  • add full lining
  • take center back zipper all the way up to the top of the dress (the zip was originally designed to be centered within the dress for some reason)
  • add lingerie hooks at shoulder to secure bra straps


After the muslin fitting, I got back to my sewing table, took apart the muslin dress, and transferred the changes to the original dress pattern pieces as needed and made a new center front pattern piece with no center seam. Then I got to cutting the dress out of the fabric.

Sewing up the dress the second time around in the fashion fabric did go much faster than the first time out of the muslin, just because I knew what to expect when sewing, and had basically done it all before.

This time, I made the lines and sewing markings for all of the pleats on the outside, the right side, of the fabric with chalked tracing paper so that is was much easier to find them when it was time to fold and sew the pleats down.

Here is a photo of one of the pleats folded from both sides into the seam, basted down, then pressed:


a pleat sewn and pressed


Extending the zipper all the way to the top of the back of the dress made sense and was easy to change on the pattern. Here, I am hand basting in the zip in to the center back seam, using a bright teal silk thread, before I sew it in on the machine:


center back zipper basted in

Once I had the dress sewn up (for the most part), I scheduled another fitting with my friend. I wanted to make sure that everything was going well before I cut, sewed together and installed the lining.

Everything looked great and fit well, needing only a few tweaks to fit around the bodice and the decision to add the yoke piece to the neckline:


Fitting #2 in the dress

It was time to cut the lovely silk lining!


cutting out the navy silk lining


I used the same pattern pieces as the dress, sewed it together in the same manner (minus the pockets), and sewed it to the neckline and armholes of the dress, under stitching as far as possible to keep the lining to the underside of the neck and arm openings.

Finally, after hours of fitting, cutting, sewing, pressing and steaming, the dress was complete! I am very happy with the result of the dress,


and Nancy was just delighted to wear it to the wedding in England:


Doesn’t she look fancy and marvelous wearing her new custom made silk frock, complete with wonderful gold shoes and a great feathery fascinator? I think so!