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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
For Easter in 1963, Jackie Kennedy wore an Oleg Cassini dress made in pale pink linen. Fifty years later, the simple style of her dress is still beautiful, and I’ve wanted to copy it for myself for years.
This Easter I finally did.
I first fell in love with her dress when I purchased the book Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, which I was lucky to find at my local Half Price Books for only $10. It is full of wonderful photos specifically of her fabulous clothes.
While I love everything about her dress, I knew I would not look good wearing such a pale pink. I look better in warm colors, and let’s face it, I am the opposite of tanned. (I’m bordering on vampire pale.)
I already had a large stash of 100% linen in an ivory color left over from a wedding dress I once made for a client. So I decided to dye some in a color I can wear.
It took me at least 6 attempts to get the final color. I almost stopped at this shade of orange, which was just a little too yellow:
Thankfully, one of my coworkers at the time is a dye expert, and she was able to tell me what color to over-dye my linen to make it a better shade of orange. (Thanks, Susan!) I also dyed my white cotton/poly underlining fabric a similar color to prevent seams from showing through. (I checked the linen with the undyed white, and there definitely would have been some color difference around the seams had I left it white.)
After studying the photographs of the Cassini dress closely, I chose McCall’s 7158 from 1963 because the style lines were the most similar. (I didn’t even realize the pattern date was the same as the Cassini dress until just now when I checked!)
The pattern needed a lot of tweaking. You can see how I fit the mockup in this post.
Once I had made the appropriate pattern alterations, I cut and assembled the lining first so I could double check the fit. Then I cut my linen and underlining fabric and basted them together.
I also made matching linen bias for the “quatrefoil motif” and to finish the arm and neck edges. (I generally dislike facings and try to eliminate them whenever possible.)
My favorite part of this build was creating the single decorative detail near the neckline of the dress.
My least favorite part of this build was making the bust darts cooperate – I almost gave up and threw the dress in the trash because of them. When stitched in the linen, they wanted to be extra pointy and I really wanted to avoid an Anne Hathaway dart dilemma.
Had I not wanted a new Easter dress so badly, and if so many people (online and in real life) had not known about me making it, I doubt I would have been so determined to finish it. (And yes, I did have to remind myself of the advice in this old post.)
I fought those stupid, hateful darts for at least 2 nights after work. I ended up shaping them slightly and stitching them by hand because it was easier to do the minor changes by hand.
Ultimately, I found the biggest improvement to the pointiness was stitching the dart fold down to the underlining to control them. (In hindsight, I probably should have reduced the length of the darts on the pattern before I cut the linen.)
They still aren’t perfect, and they really bug me because that’s all I see when I look at the dress. I’m hoping that by the time next spring comes around, I will have had enough distance from the dress for the darts not to bother me as much.
Somehow, I can make nearly perfect things for others, but when I try to make something couture for myself, it’s never quite right. I know part of the problem is that fitting and seeing the design elements on your own body is nearly as hard as cutting your own hair – it’s hard to back up and see the full picture.
So during two short breaks and part of my lunch break every day for a couple weeks, I did as much as I could to build my dress during my time at the opera. Then I continued working on it at night when I came home. But I managed to complete it in time for Easter Sunday.
Here’s the abbreviated summary of the build, through photos (as usual, click to enlarge):
Easter morning was quite chilly where I live, but since my dress was three layers, I was rather warm even without sleeves.
Since we got out of church before the rest of my family, I ended up taking most of the photos by myself using the camera’s self-timer while I warmed up the food for lunch at my parents’ house (my husband went back at our house to attend to other things).
It was so stinking bright outside, I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was almost crying. I captured lots of photos of myself with my eyes closed or really weird expressions. I did manage to take a few decent shots though.
I had hoped to take some better pictures with my husband’s help later, but nothing turned out any better. He did take a photo of the back (something I had forgotten to do):
And I shall end with a close up of my favorite part – the simple decoration:
Oh, Brooke! Your Easter dress is so lovely. It’s perfect on you and all your work translates to a beautiful finished garment.
Thanks! I think I still need some time & distance from it to truly like it. It’s so annoying how one little thing can seem so much bigger than it actually is – in my mind the darts are still as bad as they were when I first started trying to fix them.
I don’t see the darts like you do, I admit, but really I wouldn’t have noticed.
I love it, Brooke!! The color is wonderful and is such a good compliment to your complexion, and the quatrefoil decoration is just so, so perfect! I think you are being too hard on yourself about the bust darts – especially when everything else about the dress is so beautiful. I’m so glad you persevered to finish it – I hope you agree!
Thank you so much! I was really pleased that I finally got a great dye color – I kept thinking that if I kept over-dying my fabric I would end up going too far. And somehow, I ended up with a color they actually make zippers in! If I had tried to match a zipper, I never would have been able to come close.
And I know I’m being extra hard on myself, it’s just that the darts were so bad to begin with I can’t really stop seeing them that way. (grrr.)
Gorgeous! I especially love all the hand finished details.
Thank you! It was nice to make myself something so nicely finished. I usually don’t spend that kind of time on myself. =)
I enjoyed reading about this dress, since I was probably one of the first people, after Russ, to see it. It’s a great dress!
Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the “making of” story! I wish the depth of the linen color showed as well in the photos as it appears in person – that was the one thing that really surprised me about the color since I usually work with white or ivory linen. I’m glad you have seen it in person!
So, so beautiful. The bias trim and button detail are outstanding. I can see why you wanted to copy this dress. It looks amazing. It’s a lovely style on you. I hope the magic closet erases your dart hatred. They look really good in the pictures.
Thanks! I kind of want to put bias decorations on everything now, hehe.
I’m sure I’ll like the dress better next year when I pull it out. It is good to know that somehow your view of something does change after being in your closet for a while. “Magic closet” indeed. =)
The quatrefoil detail on the front is so neatly done! I also like your use of bias bind for the armholes and neck edges in place of facings, it gives such a clean finish and it probably feels more comfortable to wear, too.
I’ve noticed that when I’m making something for myself that I can get hung-up on tiny things that just didn’t turn out perfect, and then after the first wear I forget all about them, but then my shirts and jackets don’t have bust darts. Anyhow, the darts look fine to me, and they most likely look fine to everyone else, too! We are usually most critical of ourselves.
And also, when something isn’t quite perfect I tell myself that I probably still couldn’t buy better in the shops!
Oh thanks! Bias instead of facings is my favorite edge finish. =)
And yes, definitely am my own worst critic. Comes with the skills. Which is why I had to link to my old post since I had to remind myself of the list.
That looks really cool! I really like the design on front. It’s a simple detail that really makes the dress look elegant.
Thanks! =) It’s kinda weird how something so minimal can make the dress look dressy, isn’t it?
This is pretty! I really like the decorative detail, and the flare of the skirt is a good balance of straight vs. full.
Oh, thanks! I took quite a large amount out of the pattern’s skirt flare – glad to know I got the balance right! =)
Oh my goodness, that is absolutely beautiful! I must try bias finishing instead of facings myself. Thanks for sharing the story of this dress.
Thanks! You will love how clean the bias edge is once you make something with them! It’s nice to eliminate facings that like to bunch and shift around inside an outfit. =)
Wow! What a stunning dress! I really love it!
Wow thanks! “Stunning” – I think I’m starting to like it more just from all the nice comments. =)
haha, you shouldn’t like your dress, you should adore it! it is that pretty!
it’s really beautiful brooke! it looks amazing both inside and out and i love the detail on the front! i think you will really like it with a bit of distance – i recently wore a dress that i called the disaster dress as so many things went wrong in the making. looking at it now i don’t notice them nearly as much and i wore it happily!
Thanks! And my frustration with the darts just proves that even an experienced sewcialist goes through some of the same things as those who haven’t been sewing quite as long. We are all perfectionists in our own way. =)
Beautiful dress and lovely on you. I adore that motif detail, expertly done.
Thanks so much!
What a gorgeous dress! Fabulous work.
Thanks so much! =)
Truly lovely! The quatrefoil is exquisite. Your skills leave me speechless.
I have that Kennedy book and it is a favorite. I’d love to have her entire wardrobe.
Oh, thank you so much! That means a lot coming from someone who studies vintage details like you do! =)
I’ll probably be attempting some of her other dresses from the book in the future, but it’s so hard to choose which ones I want first! The Easter dress was always up at the top and seemed like a good place to start.
Gorgeous! I love how simple and beautifully done the quatrefoil is on the front. I know what you mean about not being able to un-see the pointy darts, though…here’s to hoping that some time in the time-out corner helps!
Thank you! Yes, some things are hard to unsee and the mind’s eye has a way of making them seem worse than you know they are. I’m sure time away from it will help. =)
I love it! The color is wonderful.
Thanks! I’m so glad I kept trying for the best color. I need to figure out something to use the scraps for because I really like how it dyed.
The dress is simply gorgeous! Great colour on you as well! And, it is linen, which we know all about now, because of Fabric Chat :). I love the applique you put on, as well. I wonder if the pointiness (that’s not a word) is just a product of the fabric being newer and a tad stiff? Maybe when you wash and dry it again, it will soften up. I can’t see it from the pics, anyway.
Thanks so much! I don’t think it’s a matter of washing because I essentially “washed & dried” the fabric at least 7 times because of the dying. Linen just has a lot of body and I’m more used to making period shirts with it, so this was a learning experience for me. Every project teaches you something new. =)
Wow, this is absolutely stunning! I love getting the dish on all of these couture techniques. You look lovely in your Easter dress and that detail is exquisite!!
Thanks! I’m so glad you like the inside look at the dress construction. =)
I had to add my comment – IT is SO FABULOUS!
My dress type as well. Your small detail is gorgeous!
Thank you so much! =)
Your dress is absolutely exquisite and so much detail work. Well worth all the effort you put into it. What did you use as underlining for your linen?
Thank you! I just used some thin cotton/poly as my underlining (dyed a similar color for reasons explained in the post above).
Your Easter dress is superb. That has long been one of my favorite Jackie dresses. I was a teenager in the 60s and have loved a simple A-line dress since then. To me they are classic and timeless. The color you achieved is fabulous and one that I feel is universally flattering. I don’t think I ever realized that the design on the dress was a Celtic knot but how appropriate with Jack’s heritage. Absolutely wonderful!
Thank you so much! I really appreciate the nice comment! =)
Can you handle a really silly question? I can imagine how to make the bias strips (I did many yards of the stuff to make cording for a sofa cover), but do you have a way of making them so beautifully even? Thanks! [I just discovered your site and am fascinated.]
Thank you so much! And not a silly question! If your bias is marked and cut fairly evenly, you can carefully press it to be even. Then it’s all about using lots of pins when applying it. =)