1940’s Tea Dress Sewalong No. 3: Measuring yourself, tracing the pattern and cutting the fabric

Hello everyone,

We’re back and ready to get going on our tea dresses! It’s measuring, tracing and cutting time. We’ve got a lot to get through today so let’s get started!

Firstly let’s work out what size you need to cut. To do this, you need to find your your bust, waist and hip measurements. Make sure you’re not wearing anything bulky – for most accurate results you might like to do this step in just your underwear. For this step it’s important that you wear the same bra you intend to wear with your dress once it’s done.

When holding the tape measure around yourself you want it to be fairly snug against your body. Holding it too tight or too loose will give you an inaccurate measurement. Aim to fit a couple of fingers between your body and the tape, but nothing more. And we know this sounds obvious, but don’t be tempted to hold in your tummy – after all the effort you’ve put into making the dress, you don’t want to end up with something that you can’t wear.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It       

To find your bust measurement hold the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust – usually this is around the nipples. Make sure the tape measure is horizontal all the way around your back. If it dips down or is up too high your measurement will be wrong and you could end up cutting a bigger size than you need to. We recommend standing next to a mirror so you can check.

Your waist is usually the smallest part of your torso, and the point from which you can bend sideways. Hold the tape measure around yourself, have a little wiggle, and it should find its way into the right spot. Remember, no breathing in!

For your hip measurement you want to hold the tape measure around the fullest part of your bottom. This is not necessarily the fullest part of your thighs when looking at yourself from the front, so it’s a good idea to stand sideways next to the mirror to see if you are holding the tape measure in the right place.

Now, whether to trace a pattern or simply to cut straight into the pattern paper divides a lot of opinion in the sewing world. We have to admit, here at Sew Over It we usually just go right ahead and snip into our pattern paper – the horror! Let’s face it, it’s a massive time saver – we just want to get to the sewing! But we do think tracing is a good idea, especially if you ever plan on using this pattern again for someone else.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Get yourself a really bright felt tip pen and trace along the line that corresponds to your size, making sure you don’t miss any pieces. Go slowly and carefully when you come to intersections of lines – working out which to follow can be a bit tricky.

Once you have drawn over all your lines, place a large sheet of paper on top of the original pattern, secure it down and trace it off, using another pen or a tracing wheel.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

We use dotted pattern paper for this step, but you can use baking paper just as easily. We would avoid sheets of newspaper though – things can get messy with all that ink. Remember to transfer all of the pattern information onto your new pieces.
You’ll need:
– the pattern name
– name of the individual pattern piece
– how many pieces to cut
– the grainline and foldlines
– your size
– notches! Check and double check you haven’t missed any!

(As you can see, we actually skipped this step and didn’t label our pieces as thoroughly as we recommend. Whoops!

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Now you should have all your pattern pieces traced on your paper. Cut these out (don’t use your fabric scissors!), and we’ll start preparing the fabric for cutting!

So, who remembered to prewash their fabric? If you haven’t prewashed it already, quick, you’ve still got time! If you simply just can’t, at the very least give it a nice steam press. You want to preshrink your fabric at this stage so that your finished dress doesn’t shrink the first time you wash it. We’ve been there, and it’s horrible.

Making sure your fabric is pressed and wrinkle free, fold it right sides together, selvedge to selvedge. The right side of the fabric is the side that you want to show when you’ve finished the dress; the wrong side is the side that will be hidden on the inside. The selvedge is the finished edge of the fabric, which does not fray. On some fabrics the name of the designer is shown on the selvedge, and sometimes it is evident by little tiny dots in the fabric that run down this edge.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

When your fabric is folded, smooth out any wrinkles and give it another quick press. Lay the fabric out on a large, smooth surface (in the absence of a table, the floor is a good substitute), and begin laying out your pattern pieces across it in accordance with the layplans in the instructions booklet.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Pay great attention to the grainline – the grainlines on the pattern pieces need to be parallel to the selveldge. If your fabric is slippery and tends to move around, you should always double check this by measuring from both ends of the grainline to the selvedge, and making sure both measurements are the same.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

If your fabric has a one-directional print, make sure you lay your pattern pieces out all facing the right way up, so your dress doesn’t end up with upside down panels.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

When you’re happy with the positioning, either use pins or weights to secure the pieces down onto the fabric. Then you can begin cutting! Try and keep the pattern paper to the left of your scissors as you cut – this will ensure that your cutting is nice and accurate. Keep the lower blade of the scissors in constant contact with the table for more control.

Once all your pieces are cut make sure to snip those notches. These are going to be invaluable when we get to the sewing, so don’t skip this step. You don’t need to cut out the full triangle – a snip down the middle will do. Keep these snips no longer than 5mm in case the dress ends up too tight and you need to let it out a little.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Once you have completed this step we recommend that you keep the pattern paper and fabric pieces pinned together. It will make it easier when we get to tracing darts for the skirt, and will also help your fabric from stretching and becoming distorted.

And that’s it! We’re done. Phew! Time for cake, anyone?

If you still have some steam left after all that, you might like to make a toile at this point. A toile is a test garment made from inexpensive material with a similar weight and drape to your dress fabric. Making a toile can highlight any fit issues you might have with the pattern, and allow you to make adjustments before you start cutting into your specially chosen fabric. Often there is no need to make a toile of the whole garment – but we tend to think testing out the bodice is a good idea. Use a long stitch length on your machine for this, so if you need to rip any stitches out during this process, it will be a lot quicker!

That really is it now. Have a lovely Valentine’s Day everyone, and we wish you a productive weekend of measuring, tracing and cutting! As usual if you have any questions you can comment on our Facebook page or tweet us at @SewOverIt. (We’re working on getting our blog comments up and running asap!!)

Find our other 1940s Tea Dress sewalong posts here:
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