December 14, 2015

Finished project: McCall's 6503

This pattern is quite the popular lady! See the different versions that sewists have made already: McCall's 6503 on PatternReview (you might even see an abbreviated version of this review on that site)

McCall's 6503 in an embroidered cotton lawn
I opted for View D, with its gathered bust closed with buttons (or not), pleated skirt, and no sleeves.

The fabric: embroidered cotton lawn

This was the first time I've used cotton lawn.

Er - what is lawn?

First, a story: as a child, I loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about homesteading life on the midwest prairies. In These Happy Golden Years, Laura describes fabric-shopping trip:

"For Laura’s summer dress they bought ten yards of delicate pink lawn with small flowers and pale green leaves scattered over it."

Sounds dreamy! By the way, soon after, Ma surprises Laura with a brand new sewing machine.

But what was that mysterious lawn she talks about? I imagined some kind of shantung-like fabric, with a texture that looked like it had been woven from blades of grass.

In reality, lawn is a type of lightweight cotton or linen, using fine threads for a ice-rink flat surface. You may see it used interchangably with "voile," but as Leimomi at The Dreamstress explains, they're different critters: Voile, lawn, muslin. What's the difference?

The lawn for McCall's 6503 has a tiny vertical stripe and delicate floral embroidery. I got it from Fashion Fabrics Club: Aqua Blue Embroidered Lawn. It is very breathable and floaty. Sheer, too. In fact, the pattern just calls for a single layer of fashion fabric, with a bias tape facing at the armholes. I opted to fully line the dress instead.

Full Bust Adjustment

Before cutting the fabric, I altered the pattern with a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) for a gathered bodice. You've seen this technique before, here and on other blogs, so I won't describe it in detail. If you're confused, see: Lazy Stitching's guide to FBA for under-bust gathers.

FBA, baby!

Grrr, that back-neck problem

Even having made a confident muslin, the fashion fabric version unexpectedly needed darts from the back-neck down the back, to accommodate my weird narrow upper back. This was something that only became apparent after sewing up the garment. I think it was the stiff interfacing in the neck that changed the game.

I am not proud of these darts, but they were a necessary last-minute evil. The collar stood out too much from my neck otherwise.

Do you see my shame? Here, it's all laid out. Look at those uggo post-construction darts. 

Oh, and then there's the zipper

This garment has a side zipper. So, in this fabric, one side was structured and the other side was kind of floaty where it didn't have a zipper propping it up. Perhaps it was the micro-focus of a sewist on an OCD rampage, but the asymmetry was driving me bananas. What would Laura Ingalls Wilder do? Besides cock her head and politely ask, "What is a zipper?"

Answer: I inserted a piece of boning along the seam line on the side that didn't have the zipper. It went between the lining and the fashion fabric, so you'll never know it's there. Unless you read my blog.

In the general sense, this boning hack is not a requirement. In most fabrics, a zipper wouldn't cause asymmetry.


The way this dress is constructed, with a surplice bodice attached to a non-surplice skirt, I needed to do a hybrid of lining and underlining. I ended up using bias tape for the armhole per the original instructions. A catch-stitch secures the bias tape to the underlining, for an invisible facing effect.

Bias tape is catch-stitched to the underlining. It's invisible from the outside.
The surplice got the same treatment: the facing is catch-stitched down to the underlining. You can't see this stitching from the outside.

The guts: a hybrid of lining and underlining.

From the back, the lining is attached at the armscye, neckline, and zipper -- but not at the other side seam.

Would I make McCall's 6503 again?

Sure! She's versatile, with two bodice variations (true surplice + gathered button-closure semi-surplice), a ruffle variation, and two skirt options.

The lines lend themselves to mid-century whimsy: imagine this in a retro sateen, seersucker, or gingham. To amp up the fabulousness, how about a crinoline? See Gertie's tutorial for making your own crinoline.

In a more drapey fabric, such as a rayon challis or crepe de chine, the skirt would lose much of its volume. Which makes me sad from a 1950s perspective, but full of possibilities if you consider the more casual or modern end of the spectrum.

Have you sewn this pattern before? How did it go? What fabrics and variations did you choose? Let me know in the comments.

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