The white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch, 1955
This dress may look complicated, but in fact the only difficult part is the pleating, which can be done by a professional. It is work investing in this to achieve a perfect replica of the original Marilyn outfit.
CHOOSING YOUR FABRIC
The original dress designed by Travilla was made with a super-lightweight rayon-acetate fabric, which allowed it to billow beautifully in the gusts from the subway air-conditioning. This type of fabric is no longer available, but a suitable substitute would be a soft lightweight silk, jersey silk, or crepe de chine. Whatever you choose, it needs to be very light weight. It doesn’t matter if it’s see-through because this pattern includes lining.
The movement and great shape of this dress is down to the sunray pleats. Making a pleat is essentially a very simple process: fold, pin, and iron your fabric. For this dress, the most important element is to make sure your pleats are an even 1 inch apart at the top, widening to 2 inches apart
at the hem. It may be helpful to make yourself a paper or card template to ensure the pleats are consistent. Make sure you’re accurate in cutting, marking, and stitching. The effect is created through the use of multiple folds, so if any of these important steps is off by even 1?8 inch on each fold, the distortion is also multiplied.
Images are copyright Quintet Publishing.
© 2021 Liz Gregory / Thunder Bay Press · Reproduced with permission.
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Place all pattern pieces on fabric, following the grain as indicated. Pin and cut out carefully marking all notches and guidelines with pins or chalk. The pattern has a 5?8-inch allowance for seams. Remember that the skirt is formed from two semicircles of the main fabric and will need to be pleated before stitching to the bodice— this can be done professionally by sending the cut and hemmed semicircles to a pleater.
If you are sending the skirt to a pleating service, don’t cut the waist until it has been pleated. You will need to hem the bottom, however, as this is difficult to do afterwards. Our pattern is for a 34-inch skirt length, which should be measured from a high waist point, approximately 3 inches above the natural waistline, to just below the knee. If you need to adjust this for a taller frame, I would cut the pattern about halfway along the straight sides, following the same curved arc, and then spread the pattern pieces to the required longer length. Likewise, for a smaller frame cut in the same place and overlap the pieces to give a shorter length.
Note when cutting that the upper waistband piece (MM4) actually lies at the high waistband point, approximately 3 inches above
the natural waistband. So measure this length around the model’s high waist and divide the measurement in half, to find the required length across the front of the body—adding approximately 1?2 inch for seam allowance. The pattern is for a 24-inch waist, with a 28-inch high waist measurement. Likewise, MM6 lies approximately 3 inches below the natural waist and needs to connect from the center-back zipper around the low waist to return to the center-back zipper (with a small overlap) and so measurements need to be adjusted accordingly. The MM5 pieces form a diagonal cross connecting the two waistbands, so you should also take that measurement and adjust the lengths similarly.
These pattern pieces show seam allowances of 5?8 inch, so cut close to the lines as indicated, marking notches for matching up pieces and for darts.
• MF: using RH piece MM2, stay-stitch (in a double line) between points C and D along gathering line. Gather up so that C–D measures about 4 inches. Repeat for LH piece. At marked points AA at shoulder on RH piece, gather using the same method as before. Repeat with LH piece.
• With RSF together, attach piece MM3 (shoulder ties) to the bodice shoulders for both RH and LH pieces.
• LF: repeat process.
• Using RH pieces, with RSF together, pin, baste, and sew MF to lining from point F of MM2 up the plunging neckline, around the shoulder tie (MM3) and back along the armhole, stopping at the bottom of the side seam, marked E. Repeat for LH pieces.
TIE BELTED WAISTBAND—IN THREE SECTIONS
• Using MF piece MM4 (upper waistband) with RSF together,
fold and stitch along the sides and entire length, leaving one end open for turning. Keep your stitches very close to the edge (allow minimum seam, no more than 1?4 inch, to ensure lack of bulkiness when turned).
• Leave one end open and turn RSF out. Repeat with MM5 (cross waistband) pieces, MM6 (lower waistband) piece, MM7 (long tie) piece and with MM8 (bow) piece.
• Connect the upper waistband to the cross pieces by basting both MM5 pieces at the ends of MM4, so that the cross hangs below
the upper waistband. Fold the lower waistband in half, marking
the center point with a pin, and line up the lower ends of the cross bands to equidistant points on the lower waistband. Stitch the cross pieces in place.
• Fold the long tie (MM7) so that one side is slightly longer than the other and attach the bow (MM8) at the fold, wrapping the tie around the center of the bow and stitching in place behind. Attach the tie and bow to the lower waistband piece, placed slightly off- center. The waistband is now ready to attach to the skirt and bodice pieces.
• As instructed earlier, the skirt pieces need to be hemmed and pleated before stitching together—if you’re doing this yourself, refer to the key techniques for guidance.
• MF: after hemming and pleating the skirt, cut the waist arc into each semicircle approximately 4 inches from the straight edge (as indicated on the pattern). Serge these edges to prevent fraying.
• Line up the center of the upper waistband piece (MM4) with the center front seam, taking care to ensure the top of the waistband is level with the serged waist edge of the skirt. Pin and baste in place.
With RSF, lay the bodice pieces (MM2 and MM3) over the constructed waistband pieces (MM4–8), ensuring that the waistband pieces are positioned correctly—I would pin them into place to stop them slipping whilst sewing elsewhere. The bodice sides should line up with the edge of the upper waistband pieces. Pin and baste them in place.
• With RSF, lay the skirt lining piece on top of the bodice pieces and pin and baste in place. You will now have about 6 layers of fabric to sew through in some points, which is why it is advisable to
use very lightweight fabric. Stitch the upper waistband, skirt, and bodices together from the RH side of the center back seam all the way round to the LH side. It is essential that this seam is really neat and straight, so take the time to ensure that it is.
• Turn the dress right-side out and press all seams, taking care not to affect the pleating.
• Insert zipper in place, closing lining to encase all raw edges. • Attach a hook and eye above zipper if required.