Gertie’s Shirtwaist Dress – FINISHED (ish)


I hate unfinished projects. They weigh on my mind and give me a perpetual sense of guilt for starting something and not seeing it through.

That’s why I have spent upwards of 40 hours on this damned dress. And you know what? It doesn’t even fit.

The pattern is The Shirtwaist Dress from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing. I (stupidly) cut a straight size 4. That was my first mistake. I thought (stupidly) that I could cut a smaller-than-usual size because of the rows of elastic shirring in the back, thinking it would give me flexibility for a large bust but still give me a nice, snug fit on the waist. For reference, my measures are 36.5″ bust, 27.5″ waist, 39″ hips. But, alas, there is a reason I took these pics with the dress on my dressmaker’s form. Normally Laura (my body double – I’m so original) wears a bra to pad out her chestal region but she ain’t wearing the bra and it sure is a snug fit! I even noticed the fabric is pulling at one of the darts! Yikes! This dress has been a total challenge.

dart pulling

So, as I was saying, the dress does not fit my bust. I can do it up, sure, but there is some serious gaping going on there. It’s a pity, because I actually quite like this dress and its vintagey feel. I wasn’t in love with the fabric initially (it was only $4/metre), but I think it really suits this pattern and I might have gotten a LOT of wear out of the damn dress if I could get it to fit me!

One of the great things about this dress is the elastic shirring at the back, which makes it comfortable but still fitted at the waist for the classic hourglass look.

back view

The other awesome thing about this dress is the pockets! Pockets! I love them!


Pattern alterations and design changes

I’ll say it again. FBA! FBA! FBA! Should have done an FBA. Lesson learned. NEXT.

top button

Construction notes

The fabric I used – a cotton lawn – was so sheer I had to underline the dress. I swear it took almost as much time to prep the fabric than it did to actually construct the dress. This was because the fabric, even with the white cotton lawn underlining, was still so fine that I couldn’t get my machine on the right tension to baste the two layers together. I had to hand baste about 14 pattern pieces together and it took FOREVER.

I was trying the dress on as I sewed it and after I’d done the six rows of shirring on the back (as instructed by the pattern), I saw that because the front of the dress was pulling so tightly across my bust, The pleated upper back on the dress was gaping/pooling/poofing. I decided to sew more rows of shirring, which eliminated my fabric gaping issues, but didn’t do much for the tight bust issues. Sigh.

One good thing is how great the self-covered buttons look. I love them! They look fantastic.


Unfortunately, I won’t be able to wear this dress comfortably and I’ve offered it to one of my friends who is a similar size but with a smaller bust. Hopefully she likes the style and then my dozens of hours of work won’t have been a total waste. You might have noticed that the dress hasn’t been hemmed yet. I thought I’d see what my friend thinks of it and then she can determine what length she likes and I’ll hem it for her.

I’d like to make this dress again. It’s a flattering and feminine style and, if I could get the fit right, would be a spring/summer wardrobe staple.

All in all, I’m putting this dress down to a learning experience. I practised new techniques – adding a collar, elastic shirring and covering buttons – and I know to choose a more substantial fabric so I don’t see the fabric straining at the seams and I don’t have to spend a million hours prepping the fabric after underlining and whatnot.


A learning experience. That’s what I’m telling myself. Otherwise it’s just the equivalent of a full working week and about $50 of sewing supplies gone to waste.

If you’ve had an unsuccessful sewing experience, please commiserate with me!

10 thoughts on “Gertie’s Shirtwaist Dress – FINISHED (ish)

  1. I am sorry that the dress doesn’t fit you properly as it is lovely. I have made many things over the years that didn’t work out for one reason or another. When I can discipline myself, I make a muslin (a toile in Australia?) as there is so much fitting information from making up a pattern. When I skip that step, I regret it in the end. I hope your friend loves this dress as it is beautiful.

    • You are right about skipping a muslin and regretting it! I won’t forget this in a hurry.

      Thanks for the sympathy 🙂 It always feels better to share the pain!

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  3. The dress looks fantastic and I love the covered buttons. It’s a pity that it doesn’t fit you well because it really is gorgeous. I have this on my to-do list (along with a million other things) and seeing your finished project looking so pretty makes me want to slide this up my list! Don’t worry that you “messed up” because you didn’t – I’m sure your friend will be ecstatic and if she doesn’t like it then sell it on Etsy!

    I have the opposite problem with clothing… especially Gertie,… the bust is so huge I have to take it down to negative numbers! It’s like my tits are concave LMFAO. I’ve learned with Gertie I have to make a bodice muslin and then go from there.

    I added you to my BlogLovin’ feed, check out my site if you’re bored: … I will have this dress up one day!!

    • Hahaha oh concave boobs! Now there’s a fitting challenge 🙂 luckily my friend loves the dress. She wants to wear it to the races so I’m pretty chuffed about that!

      I have read your blog before – I think your PR on the pencil skirt was how i found it – but I will def have to keep my eyes peeled for your shirtwaist dress 🙂 do you have a fabric sorted? I think for my next attempt I will use this white cotton poplin with baby polka dots. But I’m not sure I can find it within myself to have another crack at that shirtwaist dress for a little while yet. Plus it’s still winter here so even less incentive!

      • That’s great she loves it! You’ll have to post photos of her in it for the site 🙂

        Sweet 🙂 I do have 2 different fabrics picked out… I need to figure out which one is best. I think I’ll go with this black/white plaid one since it has more yardage and was $2 at the thrift shop… that way if I mess up I won’t be as sad about wasting money.

        I understand though – the Gertie shelf bust dress and I are enemies… although I’m coming back around and want to remake it – after I get over the trauma from the last try! But I have faith in you – this one turned out great from the photos, so you’ll be able to do it!

      • Definitely have to get pics 🙂 It’s almost spring here so that means spring racing carnivals and an excuse to wear pretty dresses!
        I’m sure you won’t have to worry about messing up the shirtwaist dress… but of course it always hurts when things don’t work out the way you plan!

        I love that shelf bust dress. It is such an awesome retro-style dress! But I wouldn’t even attempt it in my wildest dreams. I remember Gertie posting about whether that style can suit/flatter full-busted ladies such as myself and I don’t remember exactly what she said but my overall impression was it would be either a lot of muslin-ing or a lot of cleavage! Now I hear it’s giving you grief I’m even less rapt on the idea. Hopefully you give it another go soon, though. Teach that pattern a lesson 😀

      • I hate that it’s going to be fall here – I love spring/summer and fun dresses LOL That shelf bust dress was a nightmare. I imagine you’d have to redesign the bust area for it to work out “nicely”! I haven’t seen anyone with a full bust do it yet? Although, those dresses back in the day looked good on everyone – so I assume it’s all just in the way you fit it? Oh and yes, it will going to be muslin hell!

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  5. A learning experience if ever there was one. Gertie’s patterns are really difficult to deal with size wise. Her own B (rather than C cup as Colette patterns use) is probably her template and her patterns are graded to her own measurements. I am the same size as you so when I make this I will have the benefit of your experience. I bet your friend loves this dress, it’s gorgeous.

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