Make It or Buy It? 1950s Bombshell Dress

Posted by on Mar 13, 2022

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Item of ClothingBayliss and Knight Bombshell Dress in Ruby 

Based on1950s "bombshell" dress with crossover neckline 

Assessment: At first glance, this dress looks like a really good deal for the price. The cross over neckline is flattering and the pencil shaped "skirt" is quite nice. The description says the dress is made of a "flexible" fabric — an unusual choice of words. What they really mean is that there is some spandex in it. Which is fine if that’s what you’re into but I’m not a big fan of stretch fabrics for 1950s inspired dresses because, well, 1950s dresses didn’t really have any stretch.

Skill to know: Invisible Zippers. My biggest concern with this dress though is the zipper. Because of the stretch in the fabric the zipper pulls and gaps. There weren’t invisible zippers in the 1950s either but if you’re making a tight fitting dress with stretch, they’re really the thing to use.

Invisible zippers are fairly easy to put in. Buy one that is longer than what you will need. Unzip and iron the teeth open (on a medium setting so you don’t melt the plastic teeth) from the wrong side. This will allow you to stitch very close to the teeth. Leave the zipper open farther than it will ultimately need to be so that the zipper pull doesn’t get in your way when you’re stitching the zipper in. Some people always start from the top and sew down one side then up the other. You really just need to work out which way gives you the best results. Contrary to some beliefs, there can be more than one "right" way to do things.

Use the zipper foot that came with your machine to sew. Zipper feet are thin so that you can sew right up next to the edge of the teeth. They have a small notch for the needle. Some machines have a right and a left zipper foot. Most newer machines have a foot that you can slide from right to left depending on what side of the zipper you are sewing. 

Unless the fabric you are sewing on is slippery, you shouldn’t really need to pin the first side you sew. If your zipper doesn’t line up with edge of your seam allowance just figure out where the edge of the zipper should fall and draw yourself a line to follow. Some people are super experts at zippers and probably have a faster technique than mine but I like to double check things as I go. 

I blame my tendency to double check on my father whose instructions always included the line, “Do it right the first time. Measure twice. Cut once.” 

I blame my good but not expert zipper installation on "Boardwalk Empire." I ran the costume shop there for five years and there are no zippers in the 1920s so I kind of got out of practice. Anyway, after sewing one side of the zipper down, zip it closed to make sure the stitching line is nice and close to the edge. Then mark clearly in white chalk where any seams need to line up and where the ends meet. Unzip again and pin into place the second side. 

Pin perpendicular to your sewing line which will allow you to flatten the zipper back open with the pins. Leave the zipper pull down further than it needs to be. Don’t worry about it being on the wrong side, you’ll be able to finagle it back to the right side when done. This way, you’ll get a nice neat end finish without unsightly gapping. When done, double check that everything lines up how you intended. Then, from the wrong side, pull the zipper closed, gently pushing the pull through the bottom so that it is on the right side. Then by hand, on the wrong side of the zipper, a couple inches below where the zipper opening stops, stitch through and around the teeth. This will keep the zipper from separating. I usually do it in a couple places, then cut off any zipper excess.  

Decision: The Lady Love Song dress would probably be a bit more impressive if made with higher quality fabric and an invisible zipper. If you don’t want to make your own pattern, you’ll probably have to cobble a couple together. It will take about six to eight hours to make depending on how much pattern manipulation you need to do and whether or not you decide to line it. Four yards of fabric should be adequate.

Here are some patterns you can use to start the dress.

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