A flurry of sewing enthusiasm coincided with St. Patrick’s Day this year. When I was selecting fabric for a new dress, a perfectly kelly green cotton jumped right out of my fabric drawer and onto my cutting table alongside a long-stashed Simplicity pattern. (Must have been a stash leprechaun. 😉🍀) In this edition of our new Handmade Wardrobe series, we’re going to unpack Simplicity pattern 1803.
About the pattern
Simplicity 1803 was published in sizes 4-20 (as far as I can find). Not currently for sale, I bought my copy at a local JoAnn’s in ~2011. (If you’re interested, you can find it on eBay.) At least nominally inspired by Project Runway, this pattern allows you to sew a dress with your choice of a few bodice, sleeve and finishing options. The pattern comes with an awkwardly-branded page for your “designer notes” and, as far as I can tell, sketching? Ultimately unnecessary, it’s kind of cool if you’re wanting to live the designer fantasy as you sew… from a pattern. (Not trying to be shady, but I can’t be the only one puzzled by this, right?) Anyway, there’s your choice of cap, short or no sleeve. There’s also a tie belt option, and 3 bodice variations to choose from.
As I looked for others’ takes on Simplicity 1803, I found several standout blog and forum posts:
A common note among many 1803 makers was the odd pocket placement. The skirt of this dress has two seams at the front of the dress, basically running along the top of the thigh. The pockets are placed in those seams, so your pockets are kind of just in your lap. They don’t bother me all that much, but several folks have adjusted their pocket placement because the existing placement really wasn’t for them.
For a dress that should definitely be fairly fitted in the bodice, it weirdly has a lot of positive ease (extra room). My bust measures 37″, putting me very often between the available 36″ or 38″ sizes. I was feeling lucky, so without realizing there was a lot of positive ease built in, I lucked into a pretty well-fitting dress throughout my torso. This was the first start-to-finish dress I’d sewed in 10 months, so I dove right in. I didn’t adjust the pattern during the cutting process, and didn’t worry about pattern matching. The former meant that my finished dress is a little big in the shoulders, as all of my ready to wear clothes are. The latter ended up being no big deal.
Grandma’s practical school for fit-fretters
I brought this dress with me to my grandmother’s on a recent visit to celebrate her 90th birthday. (This is the grandmother who taught me to knit, earning her an extra-special place in my heart.) She’s an experienced garment sewist and has always been petite. When I showed her this make, and my concerns about how/where to take it in, she grabbed two pins off her dresser and said, “Turn around.” Reaching up from her 4’10” vantage point, she pinned it up for me at the back of each shoulder in about 3 minutes flat. I asked Grandma if I’d have to take apart the whole shoulder/sleeve, add a seam to the bodice, and remake the sleeves, and she responded, “Heavens, no!” “Well Grandma, what do you think of this not-so-invisible zipper?” “I wouldn’t worry about that, Heidi.” This was followed by the most delightful speech about not ripping apart perfectly acceptable work and the importance of something being done rather than perfect.
Anyone who knows me well will read about this interaction and laugh because it’s something I almost always need to hear. With any luck, I too will become wise about where to spend my making time by the time I turn 90. ☺️
If I were you, I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to get my hands on this pattern, particularly since there are some funny fit issues for a lot of people. On the other hand, I have already used half of this pattern to make a skirt because I dug the shape and length of the dress, and several folks have beautifully combined parts of this pattern into dresses of their handmade dreams (for example / for example). If this dress is extremely your sh*t as the kids say, I’d say go for it, but keep the positive ease and pocket placement critiques in mind as you plan your project.
I’ll do a handmade wardrobe post on the 1803 skirt another time, but since you’ve already gotten a secret peek at it, I feel fine sharing which skirt it is: