McCall’s 9400: sundress fundress in gingham and blue clover

The Pattern:
McCall’s 9400 Misses’ Dress, copyright 1953 by McCall Corporation
Notice something interesting about this pattern: it is “the first printed pattern.”

this beautiful illustration is beautiful

I’ve had this one for a while but never looked inside to see what it means by first printed pattern.
Turns out, like it says on the envelope, each pattern piece is printed. But in addition to being printed, each individual pattern piece was cut out by the factory. There’s a big margin of paper, outside the cut line, curving along the edges of each separate piece. All pieces were then stacked together, factory-folded, and enveloped. 
Nowadays, for comparison, all pattern pieces are printed side-by-side on a giant rectangle sheet of paper to be cut as needed. 
The even earlier, stuff-of-nightmares method gives you the pattern pieces cut out and notched by the factory, but with no lines or words. Printing the lines and identifiers on each pattern is a definite improvement. Yay McCall’s, thanks for being the first and leading the pack on that one.

The Fabric:
Blue and white gingham and a blue clover print. 

The gingham was leftover from a movie that had a scene with a kids’ production of The Wizard Of Oz. Terrible fabric. Terrible beautiful fabric that I love. Polyester. Totally warped off grain. I love it though, it’s blue gingham, it’s classic. I forced it to mirror at the shoulder seams where it’s most visible, but the side seams don’t match and the bodice center back is off grain. It was just so warped that I figured better to let it be, especially since this is not a movie and real life is more forgiving than the movies, as far as pattern matching is concerned. 
The blue clover print was a set of sheets, never used, still sealed in the original plastic, that I bought at a yard sale. You can see the label above, rayon/poly blend, quick Google tells me this bedding is from the 1970’s. 
The lady selling them said she had bought this set plus an extra set of sheets and some blue taffeta, to make herself a kick ass set of matching bedding and curtains, but never got around to actually doing it. 
I’m sure I have no idea what that feels like. 
I wish I’d asked her why she chose blue instead of the normal clover color. You know, green. But I’m glad she chose blue. For me to have. And give to my sister. And here she is!

The Dress:

girl stop. just stop it right there with your cuteness.

This pattern is 63 years old. This is the oldest pattern I’ve ever worked from, and it was unused by the original owner.
As per usual, the tissue patterns themselves are fine, it’s the heavier instruction paper and the envelope that’s gone all fragile with age. 
I don’t know why the original owner never used this pattern, but part of the reason that I never have is that old patterns like this are kinda daunting. 

Ways old patterns are daunting:

  • They look impossibly tiny. This one is a pattern size 12, which is built for a woman sized 30/25/33. The illustrated ladies on the envelope have waists that are narrower than their faces. That does not encourage me to proceed. 
  • They are designed to be worn with structural undergarments. The cover art ladies are nipped in at the waist, either by the waistband of a girdle or the waistband of a longline bra, or a waist cincher or the waistband of a petticoat, or some combo of the above. Also by the magic of illustration. So these 50’s patterns are proportioned for a manufactured body shape. 
  • They are made for a different lifestyle. For example, my sister drives a car every day and uses a laptop every day. There’s a lot of leaning forward in modern life. Close fitting kimono-sleeve style bodices don’t allow for much leaning forward, tight waist bands aren’t comfortable for sitting at a desk, and if you can’t raise your arms above your head, how’re you gonna take a good selfie? 

All of the above make it hard to even picture in ones mind how a dress will look on a modern body and life. And if you can’t quite picture how it’s going to look, you’re never going to risk 20 hours of work finding out. Except I totally did. 

Twenty hours. I really wanted to know how it would look on a real person. And now I know the answer: Cute! 

Some pattern stuff:
Check out below, this is the very first instruction on the instruction sheet. It starts with the waist. At first I was like, “Dude but I haven’t sewn the bodice or skirt yet. How can I put together the waist.” And then realized the pattern means waist as in shirtwaist, which is some olllllllld timey terminology. 
Speaking of Ye olden terminology, there’s a piece labeled bosom. Bosom! Hahahaha!
Also see how the instructions want me to like topstitch the seam allowance and the lay the bosom piece behind it and stitch through? I totally just seamed and then top-stitched instead. 
Another thing that is interesting about this old pattern is that there are no style options. Not even a sleeve length option. I expected that ruched bosom piece to be applied on top of the bodice, so one would have the option of leaving it off and having a plain front. I think that’s how this pattern would be if it was printed now. Options. But nope, that bosom piece is seamed in. The only way to play with style here is in your fabric choices. 
Which makes me super surprised that the cover art doesn’t show any view with the front of the skirt in a contrast fabric, like my version. The skirt front is a separate piece, and those gorgeous center front pleats on bias create a really great overskirt/underskirt look, which plays into the underblouse/overblouse semi-folklore peasant fairytale fantasy vibe that could be achieved with this one. I bet people made that design leap at home and totally went with a contrast underskirt effect. I bet I’m not the only one. 

Changes from the original:
See below.

The biggest change I made was in cutting the bodice on the bias, to create more give across the back. I also made the sleeves shorter, especially under the arm, and dropped and opened the armsceye a little. I had made gussets but changed my mind on that and decided the less going on in the armsceye, the better. I also made the side zipper a few inches longer than it calls for, because I’m guessing my sister doesn’t have a lot of side zippers in her life and I wanted it to not annoy or terrify her. 

The gingham bias binding falls into nice triangles along the neckline. 

Sew It or Throw It:
Sew it. 
It’s a nice surprise to see how light and summery this dress is in this fabric. 
This is a design where fabric choice has all the power. Like if it was all in chiffon, totally different feeling. All in velvet, totally different. Or if the skirt and bosom piece were white, with the bodice in some heavily floral-embroidered Grimm’s Fairytail type stuff. Lot of room to play here. 


15 thoughts on “McCall’s 9400: sundress fundress in gingham and blue clover

  1. Nice work! Man your sister must love you.
    I made a similar pattern to this recently (1948) for a costume for a play I was in (blog post coming). It had the same construction for the bodice insert. I made a muslin, and second time round was all “No thanks, I do it my (the easy) way thanks!” My ‘bosom’ piece was very sticky-outy though, even when I took two inches out of the centre. It was positioned below the bust though with the seam coming up into the armpits and was one piece for the whole top of the bodice, not an insert like this. Admittedly my fabric perhaps wasn’t drapey enough, but I did feel a little like a deflated balloon when I looked down.


    1. I can totally picture the dress you’re talking about! If I’m picturing it correctly, yours is the sexier version, with the bust being held and showcased by the bosom piece, whereas this version that I made is more of a cute version, with the bosom sitting above the bust, decorative but not functional.
      Interesting that yours had the same weird bodice insert construction method. I’ve never come across that anywhere else, wonder if it’s just some weird older idea that patterns (happily) moved away from.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. fantastic sew, and will remember your tip on cutting the back on the bias. I agree with you on some cuts not suited for modern life – I made a cap sleeve vogue dress last winter and I adore it but sewing or ‘working’ in it is a pain as the arm movement is so restricted – but its also a fave make. great mix of the patterns


    1. Hate when a pretty dress won’t let you move your arms.
      So odd to think that people were ok with being restricted by their clothing, but then, I think in the 50’s when fewer women worked, they just plain had more oportunities to change clothes for specific purposes. So, like, the dress that made it so she couldn’t raise her arms above her head was ok, because it was a dedicated social-events-only dress, not an all purpose dress to be put on in the morning and expected to perform all tasks equally until the end of the night, like we have now.
      I think if I do this one again I will put the back bodice on bias but leave the bodice front on straight grain, since the front doesn’t need the added flexibility but might benefit from more structure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I’m still more excited by the illustrations than any of the vintage patterns I have made up! Agree with all your points on sizing, undergarments and lifestyle. But it is still exciting to make up something from the past and make it your own.
    Lucky sister, she looks great in it!


    1. Thank you, I was surprised at how Old the pattern seemed —in the tone of the instructions and the method— compared to the patterns I’ve used from the 60’s which feel downright modern by comparison.


  4. Hehehehehe, bosom.

    Seriously though, it’s a beautiful dress–you done good, girl. The gingham, though terrible to work with, is gorgeous as this garment. The contrast fabric really sets it apart, especially with that ruched insert on the bodice. Love!


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