The ‘True Love Story’ two-piece dress
I barely knew my grandparents. I grew up in Hawaii, and my surviving grandparents lived in California, so my memories of them are limited to a few trips to the Mainland, and their few trips to Hawaii.
I last saw my grandfather when I was in university, six months before he passed away. My grandmother had been gone for five years, my grandfather had just moved into a nursing home, and my aunts were clearing out the house. I was about to head off to New Zealand to study abroad, and knew I might never have another chance to see my grandfather.
While I was visiting my aunts showed me a few pieces of Grandma’s clothes, and her enormous hat collection. We had the loveliest time looking at all the hats, laughing at the flower-covered 1960s beehives, and cooing over little veiled ’40s numbers. My aunts insisted I try on Grandma’s dresses. They fit like a glove, and thus, as the only grandchild the right size (and the only one with any interest in old stuff), they became mine.
For the last visit with Grandpa, just before I went back to university, the aunts suggested I wear one of Grandma’s dresses – a fabulous blue number, wonderfully vintage, but also timeless. I paired it with my favourite of all of Grandma’s hats, a charming, crazy little item in dark blue with diamantes and wings.
Grandpa loved that I had dressed up. And he had a story about the hat.
When he and Grandma were courting in Joliet Illinois at the end of the Great Depression he took her to the movies. On the way home they walked slowly, enjoying the evening and the date. They stopped in front of the fanciest department store in town, and Grandpa noticed Grandma looking at a hat in the window. He asked if she liked it, and she said yes, but that at $4.50 it was ridiculously expensive, far too much to spend on a hat.
The next day, Grandpa turned up at Grandma’s house with a parcel, which unwrapped to reveal the $4.50 hat.
And that was the hat I had picked to wear.
In addition to her hats and dresses, I own all of Grandma’s patterns, each neatly marked with her name. The earliest of them Butterick 8044, which she must have bought and made up when they were courting, or in the earliest days of their marriage.
From the moment I owned the pattern I’ve imagined it made up in blue wool, paired with the $4.50 hat. Blue must have been Grandma’s favourite colour, blue was the commonest colour among her hats, and three of the four dresses of hers that I own are in shades of blue (the fourth is her debutant dress, in white).
So here is my blue dress. I picked the short sleeve version because it was clear she had made that version up. I’m afraid it’s not quite done in the photos: I hadn’t let the bias skirt hang long enough to feel safe hemming it, so it’s unhemmed.
Just the facts, Ma’am:
Fabric: 2.5 metres of dress weight wool, thrifted ($3.00)
Pattern: Butterick 8044
Year: early 1940s
Notions: Metal skirt zip, thread, buckle, jet buttons, all inherited from Grandma (and, of course, the all-important hat)
And the insides? Finished with bias-binding in ocean blue, for extra blue goodness. I was worried I would mix up the front and back of the skirt, so I machine-embroidered a blue bow on the back waist so I could tell the difference!
Hours: 5.5 I hand-sewed the hem and sleeves, which took a while, but was worth it.
First worn?: Wed 26 Sep for the photoshoot. I just didn’t quite manage to get it done in time!
Wear again?: Oh yes! I love it! I’ll be using this pattern for many more outfits too.
Make again?: Yes, I make (and teach) this pattern all the time
Total cost: $3
For the photoshoot we went to the Old Museum Building at Massey University, which is my standard go-to photoshoot location when it is raining in Wellington. It’s also where I teach, so I got to post in front of some of my students textile work (while hoping that none of my students came along to wonder about how crazy I am). Also, it’s just a fabulous building.