Hot! That 70s Frilly Dress | Adey Lim


The Facts

Fabric: 2.5 metres floral cotton voile and ivory poly lining from chinatown $13 and 0.5 metres stretch lace fabric from Spotlight $5
Pattern: McCall's 4872
Year: c.  1970s
Notions: One 'pearl' button $0.10
Time to complete: 3 hours

Wear again? I LOVE it but might make some changes to the length first.

Total Cost: ~$18.10


It was the year 1979 and my seventh birthday. This was the only photograph I found myself smiling at the party. I was upset that mum made me wear this frilly lace and chiffon dress she'd made the night before and was naughty enough to pout in every other photo. I also remembered myself complaining about how itchy the lace was. Three decades down the road, I've definitely learnt to appreciate mum's love a lot more and decided that I had to sew my interpretation of that 70s frilly dress. Wearing it will always remind me of how much I am loved.  Did you enjoy wearing handmade garments as a child or were you the lil' rebel like me?

Mum has always sewn my birthday dresses as a kid despite being a busy high school teacher. I remember seeing her sewing away often late into the night on a vintage sewing machine with foot pedal, identical to this one. 

Vintage singer 1

I might have hated sewing because it took mum away from my side. This was the same machine I used when I was doing my home economics assignments and hated it. Anyway, that 70s frilly dress was made on this beauty which I used to called the 'beast'.

I was utterly surprised to find out that mum inherited this vintage Singer from my grandma who had seven children and made them clothes with wholesale priced fabrics. That would probably date it back to the 1930s! There was no foot pedal then but was hand operated! What's more, mum told me that I can have it once I have space in my sewing room! Oh! I absolutely want it though I have no idea if I can tame it…

Mum drafted the pattern using other dresses I had as a guide. As for me, I found deep in my stash this rather questionable looking pattern cover and view C reminded me so much of that dress. I decided to give it a go.

Instead of using lace trims for embellishment in mum's version or as suggested by the pattern, I used a stretch ivory lace fabric for the front yoke and short bell like sleeves.  This was matched with an ivory floral voile fabric which was semi sheer like the chiffon mum used but a lot easier to manage.


When I finished the dress, however, I realized the skirt was shorter than I'd expected.

This is the first time I sewed a dress which came with a separate sash and didn't realize that the skirt would be pulled up when tied. I didn't want to add more lace to the bottom as I thought it would be an overkill. So, I'm thinking I might need to separate the bodice from the skirt and add a super thick ivory elastic in between to elongate it a little but have yet to find one that is suitable. Or perhaps, I should just follow these ladies' advise and skirt the issue?

All seams are finished with french seams. I wasn't sure if I should sew the stretch elastic fabric to the woven fabric using a jersey or normal needle and couldn't find an answer searching the net so I experimented with some remnants and the normal needles worked fine.

The setting for my photographs was also inspired by my life as a child growing up in the 1970s. As the only child, I spent most of my weekends at grandma's playing with my cousins. As the adults indulge in a game of mahjong, we explored our secret paths to nearby kampongs, parks and playgrounds. The kampongs have now disappeared but I've not enjoyed time at parks and playgrounds as much as I did that evening. I love swings! Do you have an all time favorite childhood memory or activity that never fails to bring out the kid in you too?

I am so happy that we got the chance to revisit our childhood memories and totally enjoyed chatting with mum about it. More photos on Behind the Seams this week and also a sneak peek at the remake of my favorite wrap skirt as a kid ( I couldn't resist!) which I wore a lot but was never photographed in it.


Adey Sew Convert

A former kids' television channel manager turned stay home mum from Singapore, I hated sewing since I attended my first home economic class at the age of 14. In 2007, something miraculous happened when God blessed me with a second pregnancy. I discovered that I was expecting a baby girl. That changed everything. First I went crazy shopping for handmade clothes for her on etsy. Then I decided I needed to make something for her on my own. I was a month from my due date when I took an intensive 8-hour sewing class. In Dec 2008, I made a dress for my princess before she was born and have not stopped sewing since.


Comments are closed.

  1. I remember pouty photos well. A lovely dress you have made though. The short sleeves are so pretty and summery.

  2. so cute I could die!

  3. I love this dress Adey! and what a cute story. I pouted quite a bit about homemade dresses too! lol. I remember desperately wanting store bought denim knee shorts with turnups like ‘everybody’ (weren’t we all prone to exageration as a child!) else, instead of frilly home made dresses. Now of course it’d be a different story!

  4. I love it, so gorgeous, simular style to what I’m heading into as well.

  5. margueritedesigns

    I love it too – particularly that shaped top and the choice of fabric. I get so inspired when I see what everyone else is doing …

  6. I like the dress and I don’t think it looks too short, though I understand how it might feel differently on. You were lucky to have hand made things my mom and grammy were not sewers (they’re still wondering where I got it from)! And as for childhood memories I love to blow bubbles, it just makes me happy.

  7. Oh that is such a beautiful story and the love the lace at the top of your dress. I am so glad that you appreciate your Mom’s sewing now. You’ll have fun with that sewing machine when you get it, I think, because I got to sew on my G-ma’s foot pedal sewing machine once and it was fun learning to work my foot to get the right speed.

  8. I love how you say you made a version of your inspiration dress to remember how you are always loved, that’s such a nice thought :) My mom didn’t sew anything for us, but some of the stuff she picked out was questionable. She feels bad about it so I tell her to just blame it on the decade :)

  9. Cute Adey.. I think we all pouted at times, by our moms decidions of dressing us.. Love your dress.

  10. I love this dress, Adey! I am also a child of the 70s and I definitely remember wearing dresses like these. The lace looks so pretty with the floral :) You’ve done a marvellous job!
    My favourite things are swings and the seesaw. We have a lot of fun at the park still!

  11. This is lovely! I love what you’ve done with stretch lace fabric – the sleeves are fantastic. Gret work – I can defintiely see where you got your inspiration from!

  12. EEEP! I love this Adey – the texture of the lace and the fabric work so well together!

  13. I love your dress and how you updated the pattern. And I’m very impressed that you completed it with French seams. I recently had made a decision to clean up my seams, so this is more inspiration for me.
    I think my favorite childhood memory was building little worlds with legos, dolls, plush toys and etc. I think I was more into imagination then running around.

  14. why don’t you just add some lace to the bottom of the skirt? It would add length and match the top.

  15. Thank you Jen! The sleeves are my favorite part of the dress too!

  16. Thanks Casey! My mum used to say my mouth could hold a clothes hanger whenever I pouted LOL! Yes, how we have grown to love frilly homemade garments!

  17. Thank you Deeje for the encouraging words! Love to see your version too!

  18. Thanks Margueritedesigns! I get inspired by what everyone does too, it’s so fabulous being part of this community!

  19. Thanks Jessie! I think I might just leave it as it is afterall. I’m too lazy to make changes once something is done. I love blowing bubbles too and still do that quite often with my kids!

  20. Thank you Sue! I hope I’ll get use to the foot pedal. It’s almost like I’m been driving an automatic car and now have to revert to a manual one LOL!

  21. Thank you Amanda, I think such a thought lends the dress a unique personality of sorts and I love remembering dresses that way. Haha, you are so cute. In future if my kids blame me for their dressing I shall blame it on the decade too!

  22. Indeed we do LOL! Thank you Judy!

  23. Thank you Sarah! So glad that you like it! It’s gonna be counted towards my Sewing Through the Decades challenge! Genius initiative!
    Oh! how I miss playing on the seesaw, I have not seen one around in ages, the playgrounds nowadays don’t usually come with them for some strange reason.

  24. Yay! Am so happy that you like the dress Meg! I love your groovy tunic too!

  25. Thank you sweet! It’s one of my fave fabric combos so far. I don’t usually wear ivory/ white but it’s growing on me.

  26. Thank you Cathe! Having a nice inside to my finished garments is one of the targets I have for this year too. I’m still working towards it. Old habits sometimes die hard and I end up being a lil lazy at times but am pretty happy with the inside of this one.
    I loved playing with legos too but remembered I only get to play it at one of my cousins so it’s like a treat whenever we visited my auntie.

  27. Thanks Nadine, I’ll see how things go. I might leave it the way it is and see how comfy I am wearing it before deciding.

  28. I love how you reinterpreted the pattern! And your story is a perfect one for this challenge; it’s amazing how our outlook changes on things our parents did for us and how they did it compared to how we thought it should be done.
    I agree though, just leave it until it’s clear how you feel about it. I think it looks quite nice that length, but it’s always ultimately about the comfort.

  29. Thanks so much Seeks! I think being a parent myself brought on a revolutionary change towards how I see things and that in turn brought me closer to my mum. Yes, I will wait and see if the dress needs lengthening.

  30. Adey! I love the floral fabric, and it’s a really beautiful dress! So lovely hearing about your childhood, and seeing your photos!
    I think the length suits you, at first I didn’t even notice it was short, until you said the tie made it shorter. I’d leave it if I were you. I’d also wear it with lacey knee high socks, but that’s me!

  31. Thanks babe! I may very well keep it this way. Haha, I can actually imagine you with the lacy knee socks!