Pattern Review: Penny Dress or ‘A Modern Woman Makes a Case for Vintage Sewing’

I officially declare this the Summer of the Shirtdress!

They are popping up everywhere in sewists blogs and on Instagram with the #sewtogetherforsummer sewing project. Three independent pattern companies have put out lovely shirtdress patterns to fuel interest and keep sewing machines busy. Closet Case Patterns released the Kalle Shirtdress (my version is here), Named Patterns’ put out the Reeta Midi Dress, and Sew Over It offered the Penny Dress as it’s June PDF Club pattern.

When news of the Penny Dress release arrived in my inbox, I couldn’t purchase and print it fast enough. It is everything I love in a dress- a full feminine skirt, fitted waist, and unfussy bodice. The pattern and instructions didn’t disappoint and I am very pleased with the finished dress.

While I like my new dress, Penny did not get a five star review from my husband. His verdict? “You look like June Cleaver.” This was not a compliment.

He isn’t wrong. This led us to a discussion of 1950s nostalgia that forced me to critically consider my love of vintage fashion. My affinity for vintage styles horrifies my husband. He reminds me that in 1950, our marriage would have been illegal in many states (Thank you, Lovings!) and that my feminist viewpoints wouldn’t have been tolerated by society. He can’t separate the social context from the fashion of the era.

He’s right in that they are tightly intertwined. The most obvious example I can think of are women’s undergarments in the 1800s and earlier that restricted physical activity and reinforced ideas of female weakness. Even in modern times, fashion is tightly bound to social forces. Hemlines are a well-documented  indicator of national economic well being. Ultimately, a dress is not just a dress. It’s a reflection of the social and economic forces of it’s time.

I contemplated dramatic action. I debated burning the dress in a show of feminist resistance and social justice angst. I thought that at the least I probably shouldn’t wear it…

I felt like a hypocrite for a few days until I made a discovery in my pattern stash. I was organizing my growing pattern collection (more on that in a later post) when I came across this McCall’s pattern from the 1980s. I had completely forgotten ordering it from an Etsy seller months ago.


The first view looks awfully like Penny, doesn’t it? This pattern was created long after the social horrors of the 1950s, but here is virtually the same dress reimagined in a soft draping fabric. This discovery reminded me that, while we can’t separate fashion from history, we can remake it in our image today.

I decided that I am going to wear my Penny and other vintage-inspired me-mades with the knowledge that this dress may have roots in the past, but is very much tied to the present.

Below is the full pattern review. This review is also posted on Pattern Review.

Pattern Description: 1950s inspired shirtdress

Pattern Sizing: Misses

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes. My dress is a bit stiffer due to my fabric choice.

Were the instructions easy to follow? I’ve been impressed with the instructions for Sew Over It’s PDF patterns. Consistently, they have been very clear and produced a professional finish.


What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I love how easy it is to wear. The elastic waist allows for large pasta lunches and the the full shirt is cool in hot D.C. summers.

Dress without belt and showing pasta-lunch-ready elastic waistband.

Fabric Used: I used a cotton oxford shirting from the latest Vogue Fabric‘s fabric catalogue. I’m not a huge fan of the color purple, but I really like this shade of lavender. It’s one of the few pastel colors I can pull off with my pasty skin.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I shortened the pattern by 2 inches at the bottom. I made no other adjustments. Sew Over It tops generally a great fit me well without any adjustments and this was not an exception.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, I will sew it again, but, to make it a little less June Cleaver-esque, I will go with a softer draping fabric.


Conclusion: Another great sew from the Sew Over It PDF club!

Happy Sewing!