Hot! The “By the Dawn’s Early Light” Dress


The Facts image from

Fabric: Reproduction print cotton, $2.50 thrifted
Pattern: Simplicity 9350, $.25
Notions: Invisible Zipper, $3.00; lace $2, buttons $.05
Time to complete: 10 hours
First worn: June 2011
Wear again? Yeah, but with a sweater.

Total Cost: $7.80

Oh this challenge.

My plans started with this pattern but then  turned into something completely different (dress #1, inspired by Betsey Johnson), which was abandoned for lack of time. It then turned into yet another dress (#2, inspired by Michael Kors) and then another (#3, same Kors inspiration). Finally, back to this pattern and the dress you see now. Oh, what a couple days of sewing!

But let's step back. Technically, dress #3 should have been the final dress. But then we did the photo shoot. Or actually, prior to the photo shoot I ate a huge dinner of hot dogs with BBQ sauce and coleslaw. And prior to that I ate ice cream and a really great wrap at the Alameda Antique Fair. And I have my period, big time. So by the time I took my photos, I looked about four months pregnant.

Oh, and it was a skin-tight t-shirt dress. 

Of all the photos we took (hundreds) in the wind with this stupid sparkler, there was only one that look decent. And that's only because I'm hiding my belly.

image from

Horizontal stripes + skin tight dress + hot dogs + period = Start over from square one!

So, last night at 10pm, I started working on the original dress idea I had — the Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax pattern by Simplicity from 1979. I have wanted to do a Gunne Sax dress for a while but kept on passing on this pattern because I don't like the shape of the top bodice. It's just not a flattering sort of cut. It's the sort of armhole/strap combination that pinches fat in a really not cute sort of way.

Did I mention I have my period and am really feeling like a bloated mess right now?

The dress was not as simple as I thought it would be to put together. Actually, it was fairly simple, just tedious. A lot of steps with lace and way too many pieces for 2am in the morning.

And when I was finished this morning at around 11:00 (I did go to bed at 3:00 and started sewing again about 8:00), the top fit in the fat-pinching way I thought it would. But it's actually a cute dress with a sweater or bolero. And, after a couple of days I think I might not feel as blegh as I do right now.

On a more pleasant note, Happy July 4th to all my American readers!



Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


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  1. This dress is adorable but I acctually LOVE the tee-shirt dress as well! You look lovely in all pictures. :)

  2. You look great! I think your hormones may be skewing your outlook – both dresses are lovely! Well done, Mena!

  3. Both of those dresses look adorable! I really like the fabric of the first dress. :]

  4. I love it. I think my Mom made me this dress for Prom in a very small print on white, with the quilted jacket. Oh yes, she also quilted some fabric and made the jacket too too. Did I mention she was in law school at the time ? I think is super flattering on you–just wait a week !

  5. That turned out really well – great styling with the hair, necklace, shoes and tree :-) and the sun! (I miss warm weather)

  6. I think the Gunne Sax dress is my favorite of all your dresses. I LOVE it. You are always such an inspiration!

  7. margueritedesigns

    Great turnaround – it works.

  8. Gorgeous! Love the fabric.

  9. Beautiful! The two dresses, I believe that hormones play dirty in those days of the month, but that’s part of being female, so accept it. Love the red dress fabric.

  10. I thought both dresses were cute but I especially liked the second dress.

  11. Love both dresses. I’d call that type of armhole of the flower dress “not anatomically correct”. It might look great but somehow doesn’t really work for someone who has to move her arms.
    I know how it it feels when your best friend is showing proudly her growing pregnancy belly and it’s still smaller than yours… ;) Full skirts are for hiding.

  12. LOVE your dress! I have a similar pattern in the ol’ stash that I’ve been eyeing. Like you, the one thing that has kept me from making it is the bodice. But it’s such a lovely style–and I applaud you for all that late night/early morning sewing! :) I really adore that you used a print too; I’ve always just kind of gone with the idea of a solid fabric (since so many of the Gunne Sax pieces I own are plain fabrics), but this modernizes it in a really sweet way. :)
    Also, I so sympathize with trying to sew something and work around the period-bloat. I’ve been known to just completely stop sewing until everything has gone back to it’s normal size. :p Really messes up my sewing-mojo!

  13. So pretty! I really like it. Love the print, lace and buttons. The tree picture is stunning. If that was the pattern cover, I’d buy it for sure.
    I think the other dress is pretty cute too.. but understand the bloat factor!)I also understand the ‘fat pinching’ of this style of neckline and straps.. I did a similar one for the summer dress challenge, and I knew it’d be a problem.. but went ahead with it anyway (guess that’s why they put tee’s under them in the 90’s!). I had a cold rather than period though. lol.

  14. You idea-stealer! :) I’ve wanted to sew a Gunne Sax style dress since high school, I love them. I hope I even have time to finish my own Gunne Sax inspiration dress this week. Yours looks so beautiful, I can only hope that mine comes out as nicely.

  15. You’re so pretty you could wear a garbage bag and look great. And, the Gunne Sax dress looks awesome on you. Very, very cute.

  16. I actually like that pattern a lot. I stay away from patterns that involve lace because I always feel like I’m going to feel too fru-fru in them, but I LOVE the way the look on others and on the rack. I guess at some point I need to try it!

  17. I have a vintage sheet in my stash that looks similar to this print and I have never known what I was going to do with it. But I love this dress! The lace makes it look fantastic. Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. LOVE the second dress!

  19. Thanks, Elise! Maybe after a week or so, I’ll be willing to give the t-shirt dress another chance. :)

  20. Thanks, Sarah. Oh, those hormones. They just don’t mesh well with sewing.

  21. Thanks, Rebecca!

  22. Thanks, Sigrid! I wish I made the jacket since it was pretty chilly at one point during our photo shoot. What a good mom — I could sew and attend any sort of school, let alone law school!

  23. Thanks, Helen! That’s very sweet.

  24. Thanks, Diane!

  25. Thanks, Debbie!

  26. Thanks, Rosy! Yeah, I think not making any big judgment calls on sewing is probably the best answer during that time of the month.

  27. Thanks, Jessie!

  28. Thanks, Christina! Yes, pesky arm movement gets in the way of fashion once again!

  29. Thanks, Casey! Yeah, I usually think of Gunne Sax dresses as calicos so I stuck with a small floral print that wasn’t as drab as most 70s calico prints. At least I’m not alone w/r/t period bloat and sewing!

  30. Thanks, Casey! I think that my period-mind made me have bad judgment during this week’s challenge. Fat-pinching patterns and t-shirt dresses are probably be suited for any other time of the month. :)

  31. Great minds think alike! I’m anxious to see another Gunne Sax creation!

  32. Thanks, Maria. That’s such a nice thing to say. :)

  33. I used more of a crocheted lace that I think tends to give it a less fru-fru look. Other types of laces are a bit too much in my opinion.

  34. I think 70s sundresses are great uses for vintage sheets. Go for it!

  35. Thanks, Faith!

  36. It’s excellent Mena, I love the back story too, and you do floral so well and your hair looks fab and…

  37. You look lovely in this! I totally feel you on the “period week, giant lunch, get-the-heck-away-from-me-camera” moments, but holy cow are you an awesome seamstress and a trooper. I would have been crying in my sewing room and vowing never to return after a night like that!

  38. Both dresses are lovely Mena and you look stunning in both! I absolutely love the one in stripe and am inspired to sew one like that! Hope you are feeling better, I normally don’t even step into the sewing room during my period bloat days so kudos to you for working it through!

  39. Mena, both dresses are so pretty…but I am partial to the second one. The color is so soft and it just looks so pretty on you :)

  40. I went through a serious Laura Ingles Wilder/Little House on the Prairie phase circa 1978-1982 and part of that was asking/begging my mom to sew me dresses *just like* the Gunne Sax dress with 1880s style sleeves. The local 6th grade Van Halen fans decided that I needed to be beat up in a ravine for being a freak.
    Here I am 30 years later and I still LOVE that dress & style.
    Mena, the dress is lovely.

  41. Your dress is absolutely beautiful! I love it! It’s not weird or unflattering in the arms, it’s actually perfect! Now the stripe one, I agree with you, doesn’t quite work. Not your fault, horizontal stripes are evil!

  42. I love the dress and the lace detailing. You look lovely :)

  43. This looks so detailed (with the lace and buttons) and fiddly, well done on getting it all complete! That colours look gorgeous on you, makes your skin look so beautiful!

  44. I LOVE this. I absolutely adore those old Gunne Sax dresses, and your take is even better. Just perfect.

  45. O the memories. I made this Gunne Sax dress in 1979. I wore it after my wedding. We stayed at the Fairmont in San Francisco. I love the print that you used for your dress. So cute. I need to go find my pictures!

  46. oh, le period.
    but the payoff is you have two awesome dresses now. that stripey number is the bomb on non period weeks. and oh god that floral dress is sheer anthropologie.
    and you can always do another UFO week to finish the third…

  47. Oh I love it. It’s a really cute dress.