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Adjusting a 70s dress pattern to a different size

As I mentioned in my post about the 70s GDR sewing magazine, I wanted to make some of the dresses from it. To do this, I would have to adjust the patterns dramatically to fit me, as most of them were in one size only.

The dress I most wanted to make is the one on the right here:


some beautiful dresses


The size offered as a pattern would be a contemporary German size 38 (UK 10). Being a relatively busty UK size 14, I knew I had some work to do. However, the fact that there are pattern pieces for this dress that solely enclose the boobs, made me think that it would be easier to adjust. Yes, I actually thought that…

This is one of my first forays into adjusting patterns, so I didn’t expect a perfect outcome.

As you can see, I finally got myself a tracing wheel.




I traced the pattern onto Swedish sewing paper and then measured myself. This turned out to be really easy for the front pieces, as I had hoped. The upper front piece had to be longer to accommodate my boobs. The shoulders actually seemed ok. (This is really often the case for me, size 14 patterns tend to be a bit wide and usually too long in the shoulders for me.)

Now the upper back seems a bit odd by my contemporary standards. I have never seen a pattern that uses darts in the shoulder seem. I understand that the back is meant to give me the ease to move around in the dress, but this still seems a bit strange to me. In any case, I also made it a bit longer and a little wider at the bottom.

I made both lower front and lower back pieces a little bit wider according to my measurements.

What I found really weird, was that I didn’t actually add all too much to the patterns. Maybe it was one of those patterns that has lots of ease built into it. There is absolutely no indication of this in the magazine or on the pattern.

I was also wondering whether or not seam allowances were included in the patterns. (Again, no indication…) I obviously added them to my adjusted pattern, so if they were included that would explain the small adjustments.






I just had enough fabric for a mockup. I used a classic polyester in white, which I had lying around.

Admittedly, I messed up the lower back piece. I later noticed that it is much too big in comparison to the upper back. I also managed to use the wrong side of the lower front on the fabric fold. At least I added an unnessesary seam allowance on that fold, so that cutting it and sewing it together on the other side wasn’t a problem. I should not attempt making patterns at 10 pm…

This is the mockup from the front. Trying it on, I find it a bit loose in the boob region and also around my waist (which is admittedly quite high.) I wonder if this style just doesn’t suit me, as it really accentuates my boobs.




Making a new dress from an old one

I had this dress I really liked. I liked it so much that I had worn it down to the point where the knit fabric just looked old and frayed. It was, however, one of those dresses that just looked great on me and I wasn't going to give that up.

Actually, I had previously used it as a sort of guideline for making stretchy dresses for myself by holding it onto the fabric and marking the pattern pieces. As you can imagine, this is kinda difficult with a dress that's all sewn together. So now I took the opportunity to dismantle it and make it into a pattern.

The dress is made up of a front and back for the bodice with no darts whatsoever, a couple of sleeves and 4 skirt panels. I unpicked the bodice and sleeves and one skirt panel, then laid them on top of my trusted Swedish tracing paper and marked a pattern around them. I had to adjust this slightly and use measuring tape to  make sure everything was straight, as the fabric pieces were a bit stretched out/crooked.

old dress bodice

As you can see in the picture above, one of the armholes looks different from the other. I really can't say whether I stretched it out or whether the fabric was cut that way. It certainly never struck me as being off when I wore it.

That aside though, here are the finished pattern pieces on my fabric of choice:

patterns I cut from the old dress

two skirt panels cut!

The fabric is a jersey with a similar stretch to the knit fabric. I much prefer knits, but sometimes I just cannot resist a print. I had actually had this fabric for a while as I wanted a really good pattern for it. I couldn't bear the thought of making something with such a gorgeous print that would be ill-fitting. But since I had that pattern now, nothing could stop me.

Now it was really just the case of cutting the pieces out and sewing them together.

I left one of the shoulder seams of the bodice open, as I wanted to put a neckband in.

bodice all sewn together

For the skirt panels, I made sure that I lined up the fully sewn skirt with opposite seams touching, as there are no side seams. I marked the sides with a bit of chalk.

the skirt

Then I made sure the markings were aligned with the side seams of the bodice:

lined up side seam and marking

Pinned and then sewn together, I almost had a whole dress now.

almost a whole dress

The next step will be sewing armholes on and then finishing the whole thing off with the coverlock machine.


The beautiful 70s GDR sewing magazine

... and how I tried to make sense of it.

A little while ago, I was looking for some patterns for a 70s dress (which I still want to make, but I will cover that in another post). It seems that most modern patterns don't have the style that I want for this, so I turned to ebay to find some vintage patterns or magazines from the time.

I only saw the cover of this 1970s magazine, but I instantly loved it. Admittedly, it being a GDR sewing magazine might have played a role in this decision. It is a lovely glimpse into the past, and (so I thought) I could ask relatives and work colleagues, who had inevitably made their own clothes at that time, to help me.

However, not being able to see inside, I didn't know what I was in for. First, I loved the look of it, even though it was already falling apart in my hands. The cover came off pretty much as soon as I opened it, but I didn't really expect anything else. It is a very thin magazine, but there are a number of patterns to be found.

On the few pages, one can find (very wide) trousers, lots of blouses, some jackets and skirts, and most importantly, a lot of dresses.

 Here are some examples

Since printing a whole magazine in colour was expensive and therefore unusual, some of the pictures are in black and white. I don't think this is a problem, as it's the cuts I'm interested in. However, describing something as having red binding to make it stand out and then showing a black-and-white picture seems somewhat crazy.

I had looked up GDR sizing before, but the pattern actually gives the indicated measurements. I will explain it here:

size  m76 m82 m88  m94
bust (in cm/in)  84/33  90/35  96/38 102/40
waist (in cm/in)  58/23 70/28 76/30 82/32
hips (in cm/in)  90/35 96/38 102/40 108/43

 There are bigger sizes, as well as short and tall sizes, but the ones above are the standard that seems to be used for most of the patterns.

My initial thought was to just use the patterns in m94, which is closest to my measurements, and adjust it slightly in the hip and bust area.

Little did I know that the items in this magazine were only meant to be sewn in the size they were displayed in. Therefore, the pattern for each piece of clothing is only in one size. That size is mostly m82. I'm going to have to adjust them dramatically to fit me.

Now, let me give you a glimpse of the beautiful maze that is the pattern pieces:


My current method for copying the things I actually want to sew consists of taking the pattern, pinning swedish tracing paper on top, copying the lines onto that with a marker, then cutting them out. I know I should really invest in some copying paper and a tracing wheel...

The swedish tracing paper has the massive advantage of me being able to see what the patterns look like, sew them together as a very rough mock-up and manipulate them however I want.

For this maze of patterns, I am going to mark the patterns I want with colour pencils and then try and trace them. It's going to be really hard not to destroy the brittle paper (which is newspaper quality).