You’re Really Tedious and Boring, Madame Gres

Remember how excited I was about trying out this 60s Vogue pattern by Madame Gres, made with thin wool jersey and underlined with power mesh?

Gres pattern

I made up a muslin (info in this post) and got a lot of nice feedback both here and on InstaGram. I was ready to go!

Then I took a closer look at the directions, which include things like making a hand-rolled hem, something that takes the folks sewing Hermes scarves YEARS to learn…


(Check out this Blogger’s post and you’ll understand why Hermes scarves cost $400.)

Not to mention a side slot zipper that had “hours of hand picking” written all over it. (Oddly, the instructions were printed on the pattern.)


So I started to think, boy, this is going to be a pain in the ass. An old Monty Python sketch started running through my head, where Michael Palin, an accountant who wants to be a lion tamer, tells John Cleese that his job is “tedious and boring and DULL” and, well, just have a look:

I was thinking, it will be a pain to layout, it will be a pain to cut, it will be a pain to attach the mesh, it will it will be a pain to hem and attach the six-foot drape, it will be a pain to…I was just getting anxious about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in the next room, my 13-year-old son was complaining about a “take-home” test in American History and stressing about the War of 1812 (anyone?), the Whiskey Rebellion (anyone?), Pinkney’s Treaty (anyone? Except you, Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, former middle-school history teacher…).


So I put on my “mom voice” and said, “the stress will go away when you’re done.”

Then I realized that that was what MY mom would have said, so the next day, I got out that fine wool jersey and did a layout that took up the entire length of the bedroom floor:


Did the alterations that I knew the pattern needed on the sides (from having fit the muslin):


And figured out a way to hang the big drape, so I could hem it before I put it on the dress. I didn’t think there would be a problem with the bias shifting with a knit, but I did it just in case:


Then the blizzard hit, so I took advantage of the snow day to cut and mark the powermesh lining, using a marker to speed things up.


I had already marked the wrong side of the fashion fabric with wax sheets and a tracing wheel. The interior was going to be a little messy, but I got over it.


I figured if George Clooney and I were somewhere out of earshot of our spouses, and suddenly he got fiesty and ripped off my dress, he would be enough of a gentleman not to say, “boy, you really should have put in some kind of lining, even though it would have made the dress more bulky, because, dammit, those magic marker lines look like crap.”

George Clooney

(I put that picture in for my friends Darcy and Christine, who don’t really sew, but read my blog anyway. Isn’t he dreamy?)

As much as I wasn’t feeling it, I hand-basted (“thread traced”) the fashion fabric to the underlining at the darts and the line where the drape will attach. I’ve just found it’s so much easier to manipulate darts with underlining if you take the time to do this:


I wasn’t about to thread trace all the way around, so I attached the underlining to the fashion fabric around the edges by using a long, narrow zigzag about 3/8 inch outside of the seamline.


My Bernina 560, Karl, was so happy to be back in action, his walking foot was jumping up and down! The walking foot kept the layers together and even. (For details about how Bernina is loaning a B560 and walking foot to assist with these vintage projects, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)


Yeah, it was still snowing!

When I went to pin the darts, the thread tracing made it so much easier to line everything up, it was worth the effort.


I basted the whole underdress together, and saw that the fit wasn’t too bad.


I also saw that it was time to get back to the gym. But since the dress was stretchy, I knew I could jettison putting in a zipper, which made me delirious with joy.

Then the next day, when the whole town was digging out:


I decided to use light knit fusible on the neck facings, to speed things up. I turned up the bottom edge by 1/4 inch and edgestitched it.


So I’m getting there, but I still have a way to go:


The snow’s not going anywhere anytime soon, either!


Anyone else’s sewing stuck in the snow? Keep shoveling!

40 thoughts on “You’re Really Tedious and Boring, Madame Gres

  1. If it is any help at all, you have managed to inspire and entertain me all in one go! Wow, that is some serious detailing for what looks like a “simple” dress. I constantly in awe of real couture and the incredible amount of patience, detail and handwork that is involved. I often have a hard time staying the course and thread marking etc. Great job, and keep up your inspiring work and most importantly entertaining blog! I love it!

      • Then you are in excellent company, with Peg Bracken and Betty McDonald. And that is the highest compliment I can give you.

        I had my doubts about this project, but that is a delicious color on you. I love it when a plan comes together.

      • Well, that is a compliment, as I’m a fan of both, and Erma Bombeck, too. Thanks!
        The giant drape is half on, so soon we’ll know if Madame Gres came through for me.

  2. Wow, who knew such a simple dress could be so much work? Glad to hear you are modeling perseverance your son. The War of 1812 is underrated, by the way!

    • Hi Lauriana, I was surprised at the amount of work, too. Though anytime you see the word “underlining” you’re pretty much in for it. I’m hoping that the combo of the power mesh and the large drape will artfully mask certain protruding areas of my middle.

  3. We’ve consistently encountered this phenomena where the “simple” patterns are the very devil! Love how it is turning out though :)! Onward. . .

    • Hi Lisette, well, my mom taught me to sew, so her spirit is definitely with me in the sewing room. I’m north of you in the Boston area. We definitely got more snow that you did this time around.

      • Very true about the weirdness we’ve seen! And my 8th grade history teach was Maggie Razor! She was fantastic.Wish I could remember what I learned about the war of 1812 as clearly as I remember Ms. Razor.

  4. Wow, I am amazed you really read the instructions. Most of the time I cut, check the important points of how to put something together and ignore technical advise but do it the way I always to. This might not always be the wisest decision and it has spoiled my sewing fun many times in different ways than your reading-the-nasty-bits-of-the-instructions-before-they-get-important, in fact this is what makes my projects look untidy on the inside all the time. How relieving that I am not a Clooney-girl…although I doubt the Britons I fancy would be less gentleman-like than he (oh Mr, Cumberbatch, you wouldn’t, would you?).
    I am happy for your that the hard word paid well and the fit is so good. It looks great, I am curious how it will look with the drape (oh, and that color, beautiful shade of blue!).

    • Hi Ette! Well I learned my lesson about not reading instructions when I got stuck in the middle of both the Edith Head and Claire McCardell garments I made this fall. Now I read them through to understand what I can streamline. As much as I love haute couture techniques, I’m tending to run out of patience!

  5. I’m envious of your snow – we’ve been suffering through heatwaves here in Western Australia and it makes sewing very sticky. I am totally impressed with your efforts with this pattern and am looking forward to seeing the finished garment.

  6. As always, very funny. I love that colour on you and look forward to seeing the final product.

    As the enemy, I could help your son out with the War of 1812. 🙂 PS I second the person who said they are not a Clooney fan. He would never see the marker on my underlinings! 🙂

  7. It’s interesting how the simplest looking garments can take so much work–but you really can tell the difference in the end. Your details and specifics are always appreciated. As for the War of 1812: We spent three years of duress in Toledo, Ohio, some years ago (apologies to Ohioans–it just wasn’t a good time to be there), and everywhere we turned there were plaques and monuments concerning that war. And I still can’t tell you what it was all about. I was a history major in college.

    • Hi Patricia! It’s true that the War of 1812 is kind of a joke in the U.S., because we’ve all heard of it, and most of us have no idea what it was about. It must be a Toledo thing, because I spent several years in Columbus, Ohio, and all anybody talked about was the Buckeyes.

  8. Your blog about this Gres dress has made my day. I had no idea there would be so much work on the underside of this lovely dress, from looking at the pattern, like most of us. My couture knowledge would barely fill a thimble. But, it also looks like it is going to be a great dress, and timeless, which is what I like about couture and classic designs. Stay warm —

    • Hi Karen, I’ve realized that it’s not Madame Gres that’s tedious, it’s doing the underlining! As much as I love having that couture touch, I’m going to skip it in my next project.

    • Thanks for stopping by! We could use some of that hot sunshine to melt our six foot piles of snow. In the meantime, it does feel snugged in to be doing winter sewing. I’m plugging away at each little task, and next up will be putting on the big drape, which is the fun part.

    • I agree! I was happy to see it, because I enjoy collecting them, as they feel like wearable works of art to me. Now I know that they are! I find them on Ebay, because the retail price is too steep.

  9. Reading along, got as far as finding out you named your sewing machine – that’s it, I am following!

    I haven’t tried my hand at powermesh, although it’s definitely something I mean to do. I’m pleased you didn’t have to put in a zipper!

    • Hi Zoe, thanks for coming along for the ride! You’ll find that Karl is quite a character. He’s always keeping me in stitches! (I know, that was awful, but I just couldn’t resist…)

  10. Wow. Instructions for a hand-picked zip printed on the pattern sheet itself? Gotta love vintage patterns. I’m reading the posts on this dress backwards, btw. Love all the construction details. I would never have thought of using powermesh for underlining. Fabulous.

    • Thanks so much! It was definitely a learning experience. The instructions for the zip had a machine insertion, but since it was a slot zipper I figured hand-picking was in the offing. Better to skip it!

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