Hot! The Summertime Southerly Dress

The ‘Down Under’ challenge floored me for a bit.  The whole idea of ‘seasonal’ weather in Wellington is just ridiculous though.  We are the land of four seasons in one day (do you have that stuck in your head now?  You’re welcome!).  It may be the height of summer, but on various days this week I’ve been in jeans, wool tops and wool socks, and shorts and a singlet.  What on earth is seasonal appropriate weather in Wellington!?!

So I went for a dress to wear all year round, and never: too warm for summer, not warm enough for winter, no good in a stiff breeze, but charming nonetheless.  I’m calling it the Summertime Southerly.  One of those things that shouldn’t exist, but does.*


Southerlies in Wellington are stiff winds that blow straight off Antarctica, up the Cook Straight, and into Wellington, where they chill you to the bone no matter the time of year.  Sometimes in the summer they come as light breezes, rather than stiff gales, and those days are perfect for dresses like this. So are still days in winter.

In addition to being a sort-of-out-of season dress, it’s also a UFO (getting a head start on next week’s challenge!): I started it at the beginning of spring, with the idea that if I sewed a wool dress Murphy’s law would the weather would definitely be too warm to wear it!  The weather may have cooperated, but the dress got set aside when other stuff became more pressing.

I’m rather ambivalent about the dress.  I feel it emphasises lumps and bumps and clings awkwardly, and the sleeves are weird.   It would help if I wore it with a better slip (well, serious undergarments, really!).  And I wish I had given the side seams Hong-Kong finishes AFTER I fit the dress, because I ended up taking in a LOT of fabric with the fitting, and it’s all still there.

I still want to find the perfect buckle to go with the belt, and am going to re-finish the cuffs with black satin bias tape.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 2ish metres of thrifted vintage 100% wool crepe (the fabric had pieces cut out of it already, and I forgot to measure it before I cut, so I can’t tell you exactly how much there was.  Trim of vintage black silk satin from an obi.

Pattern: Excella E3169 ca. 1931 without the cape, with long sleeves.  This is the same pattern I made the Frumpy Dress from.

Pattern alterations: The collar is a not-very successful self-draft.  And I didn’t have enough fabric to do the sleeves properly, so I pieced them along the line where the hem would be for a short sleeve.  If I get tired of the long sleeves I can just unpick the bottom half!  I also dropped the back hem just a bit to add flair to the skirt.

Year: ca. 1931

Notions: lots and lots of thrifted cream bias tape to finish the inside.

Hours: Ergh.  Lets not go there shall we?

Techniques used: French seams, Honk Kong seams, pintucks, rolled hems, and a tiny bit of pattern drafting..

Will you make this again? The pattern?  Yes!  But not in wool crepe.  It’s much better as a proper summer dress in floaty chiffon.  And I’d rather save the wool crepe to make stuff like the Dress Clip Dress.

Total cost: Don’t remember exactly, but under $3 for the fabric.

And the inside?: bias-bound Hong Kong seams at sides and waist, french seamed sleeves, hand stitched collar.  All rather decent.

*I was going to call this the Edna dress, because it reminds me of a 1920s photo of Edna St Vincent Millay.   Then a friend pointed out that the juxtaposition of ‘Down Under’ and Edna really wasn’t a smart move.  It took me a minute, but I had to agree that I didn’t want people thinking Dame Edna!


Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


Comments are closed.

  1. What a great photo shoot – those lovely old boat sheds! I think I can see my parents house in one of those photos! I feel your pain – I remember those Southerleys – just dreadful. But I also remember swimming in that bay as a kid. I like the overall look of the outfit – hope you get some wear out of it – definately practical.

  2. Thank you! I love the boat sheds, and I swim in that bay every summer. So cute that your parents house may be visible!

    I’m still on the fence about the dress, not helped by the fact that the first washing revealed that the black obi satin bleeds something fierce – I’m going to have to replace it all!

  3. Gasp! I love this! The finishes are amazing and I am agog at your website. I will be spending hours there. I hope you do wear this again. I think you look amazing in it.

  4. Love your dress.

    What is a singlet?

  5. Awwww…thank you Colleen! That is so, so sweet!

    @ Tia, a singlet is a tank top. Not sure why it is called that (or why it is called a tank top either – that doesn’t make any more sense), except that perhaps it is because the shape was originally taken from men’s undershirts, so if you were wearing one you were wearing a single layer. I must add this to my list of things to look up the terminology on!