Whether or not you’re a fan of retro styling, Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book by Gretchen Hirsch is a fantastic collection for many a dress enthusiast. And while its size range is limited, the book is filled with instructions perfect for the intermediate sewer who needs a little reminder on a wide range of techniques. The patterns are, of course, an added plus!
Size range – 2 (32/24/26) to 16 (46/38/50)
What size did you make? – 10 at the shoulders to 14 at bust/waist/hip
What are your measurements, height, and body type? – 42 chest/37 waist/48 hip. I’m 5 foot 6 inches tall and I consider myself a pear, but with a tummy.
What adjustments did you make and how long did they take? I reduced the width of the darts in the front and increased the dart width in the back to accommodate my larger tummy. Then I removed/added the same amount to the back/front of the skirt. Also added 3 inches to the puff sleeve and puff sleeve binding plus re-drew the sleeve cap. My upper arm width is usually several sizes larger than the pattern piece, so this is a really normal adjustment to me. The dart/skirt adjustments took about an hour, with repeat fittings and seam ripping. The sleeves took longer because of the sleeve cap fit issue. I also did a sway back adjustment in the back bodice only. That took a few moments.
However, I did not have to do a FBA or lower the bust point, so that is a major win! I have a size 36G bust and usually have to FBA everything. One look at the size of the darts and I thought it might be likely I could get by without doing a FBA. Seriously unheard of in any other woven pattern I’ve tried! I also didn’t have any neckline or back of the neck gaping like I have with all other woven patterns. So, using Gertie’s basic bodice reduced the number of adjustments I had to make by 50%.
What was the construction process like and did the instructions make sense to you? If you’ve made a basic dress pattern before, then, yes, it goes together very smoothly. The difficulty with using this book is that you have to flip back to another chapter to reference, say, how to insert a zipper. Sometimes the page number is referenced in the dress instructions, but often it is not. There are some illustrations which are slightly helpful, but not always as clear as I’d like.
How do you like the pattern’s fit? Do you think the designs worked well for your particular body type? Yes. I really like the pattern’s fit. That is the #1 reason I wrote up this review. I’ve been on the search for something that would contain patterns for lots of basic styles I could modify and then use again and again. This book has it is spades. Round, v-neck, boatneck, sleeveless, and surplice and princess seam bodices, plus facings for all. It also has a-line, peplum, pleated, box pleated circle, pencil, side pleated, and 3/4 circle skirt patterns. Right there is everything I need to make a pretty extensive wardrobe. And while the dresses are all styled to be retro, you could really transform them for a very modern look too. They patterns do follow the fitted waist style. I made it work with my stomach, but I could see how it wouldn’t work if you don’t have as much waist definition.
Will you make the pattern again? If so, what fit or design changes would you make? Yes! I’ve only tried one bodice, skirt, and sleeve so far. I’m excited to tackle the princess seam pattern because two of my favorite looks in the book (Blue Floral “Sailor” Dress and Cranberry Wool Dress) use those pieces. When I use the v-neck and pleated skirt pattern pieces in the future, the only thing I’ll change is to add an additional pleat or two to the front piece. There is supposed to be a break in the pleats there, but because I added width the break in pleats is larger than I’d like.
Do you have any advice on this pattern for other curvy sewers? Are there any resources that helped you sew this piece up? My advice would be to make a muslin. Because everything is a classic shape, it is well worth the time taken to get the fit right the first time. And this book didn’t need any more resources. It takes a bit of flipping around to find things, but all the explanations are right there. Hemming techniques, inserting zippers, using boning, moving darts, etc. Lots and lots of information on using vintage sewing techniques, too, should you feel up to it.
Size Range – 3 Obviously, it doesn’t go as high as other designer’s patterns, but these patterns feature a curvy fit.
Instructions – 4 One point off for having to flip around.
Construction process – 5 Smooth sailing, notches line up and piece fit together smoothly
Final Fit – 5 Super happy!
Overall rating – 4.25 Mostly because of the lack of size range
I found this book to be well worth the price* for what you get. The instructional chapters looked legit in their methods and the amount of pattern pieces that come with it is fantastic. I’m really looking forward to tackling more of the designs soon!
* I purchased this book from my local book store with my own hard earned cash. I don’t know Gertie and have never used her patterns before. So, these are definitely my own opinions.