Gertie's Shirtwaist Dress.
My projects,  Patternreview,  Sewing

Gertie’s shirtwaist dress with hacks

I bought Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing by Gretchen Hirsch some months ago. It’s a book that not only has gorgeous vintage inspired patterns, it also teaches a great number of sewing techniques that can be used to make vintage style garments. The whole book has, in fact, been divided into two parts. I like Part 1 a lot since it goes past the basics of sewing and talks about things like stabilizing fabric, pattern modification and fitting. It is a great book to reference when you want to check things like how to make a tailor’s tack or how to make pad stitching. I have spent quite a lot of time leafing the introduction back and forth but will have to take time one of these days to read it through properly. There are 14 different patterns in Part 2 with even more tips on how to customise them. I liked the Shirtwaist Dress immediately, so I decided to start with it.

I had about 4 metres of this beautiful floral cotton in my stash and decided to use it for this dress. It’s a bit heavier than many of the cottons I normally use for dresses (mainly cotton lawn). I could perhaps describe it as being something like mid-weight quilting cotton, although it was full 150 cm in width and draped pretty well for cotton.

The pattern details

The Shirtwaist dress on page 183 is a 1940s style fit and flare dress with short puffed sleeves. The front of the skirt has little pleats at the side and the back is made of one piece all the way up to the yoke with shirring at the waist.

The pattern comes in sizes 2 to 16 corresponding to bust measurements 81,3 cm to 116,8 cm (32″ to 46″). I looked at the size chart and figured out I should make the top part in size 4 and then scale up to size 6 at the waist and below. I did not make a toile since this was supposed to be an everyday dress. With 15 mm seam allowances, I still had a little bit extra to work with, just in case. This was a good idea, but a toile would have certainly made a better fitting dress. In retrospect, I should have made the size 6 at the top, too.

Sewing and my adjustments to the pattern

The instructions in the book are pretty concise. However, whatever is missing in the pattern instructions, can be found in the Part 1 of the book. I did not follow all the instructions to the letter as I have made similar kind of garments before.

I did add a bit width to the front by reducing the seam allowance to about 7 mm. It seems that this pattern is bigger at the back and smaller at the front which is a bit annoying for me since my front is proportionally larger than my back.

I did not want the puffed sleeves. Like I mentioned in my previous dress post, I have plenty of dresses with puffed sleeves and thus prefer ordinary ones. As the weather is cooling down, I decided to draft long sleeves for the dress.

The armholes looked pretty odd, before attaching the sleeves:

The dress bodice without the sleeves.

The bodice was a bit tight. I had tried pattern matching but in the picture the pattern doesn’t align well. The shoulders, however, were worse. They were poking out and looked a bit like short kimono sleeves. This actually would look pretty nice in a summer dress if I was making a sleeveless one but these armholes wouldn’t suit for my sleeves at all.

I removed about 3 cm from both sides and curved the armholes quite a bit to shape them. I’d recommend not doing this in one go but gradually starting with smaller slivers! I then drafted a sleeve pattern using a sleeve from my Melville shirt as a base. This time I made several toiles. I basted the trial sleeve on and then modified both it and the armhole until I was happy.

The finished dress

Gertie's shirtwaist dress from the front with my sleeve-hack.


The fabric is perfect for this dress. It hangs well and looks so pretty. The fit is not so good, though. You can see how the fabric pulls at the bust, because there should be more fabric there. Perhaps for once, I should have made a full bust adjustment.  I might try to move the buttons a bit but then I’ll lose the pattern matching I did over the button band. The collar looks different from the picture in the book. The whole back collar lies almost behind my shoulders and is pretty short.  It doesn’t reach the front like on Gertie’s dress in the picture in the book. I thing it would have looked a bit better if the collar was a bit longer.

The bodice is pretty short and about an inch higher than my waist. This is a matter of taste. I often have lifted the waist a bit but in some pictures, I took of this dress, the waistline makes me look almost pregnant. Especially since most of the fabric of the skirt seems to be in the front:

The thing that bothers me the most is the skirt back:

Another view:

The skirt is much narrower in the back and the balance of the skirt is a bit weird. The back hem almost touches my calves and the front of the skirt juts forward. Some of the fabric bunches up on my bum. I think that this shirred waist doesn’t work for me, at least not, if the skirt has been cut this way. I could perhaps add flared skirt panels to both sides of the back skirt piece and add some width to balance the skirt out. And I could perhaps move the shirring upwards so that the waistline would lie more horizontally and thus eliminate the “pregnant” look. Because, if you look carefully at the “preggie” picture, you can see the side seams of the skirt jutting forward.

The conclusions

All in all, the dress still is wearable, but it not really up to my normal standard. I will have to see whether I have the energy to correct it since it does have several fit issues that all would have to be solved. As I do have better fitting dress patterns, I don’t know whether it really pays to spend any more time with this one. This is not really the fault of the pattern itself. Gertie uses a bit different sloper than e. g. the big four. In many ways, it is a good thing, since the big four sloper doesn’t fit everyone. It is just good to have variety. Unfortunately for me, who fits pretty well into most of the patterns, Gertie’s patterns offer worse fit. So, the next time I will know to make a toile/muslin before using any of these patterns.

However, I can’t really say much else of this pattern. For me, the best part of the Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing is the Part 1 with all the information about sewing techniques and tailoring and I can recommend this book for just that.


I hope you liked this post! Thank you for visiting my blog and do come back soon! In the meantime, happy sewing!



I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


  • runsewread

    I went through that same sleeve situation recently. It sure derails the project. I worked through mine much the way you did, and ended up being just ‘ok’ with the result. Super frustrating. I’ll try the blouse again, and hopefully start out with what I learned on the last one. Your finished dress is pretty. I love the print.

  • Anna -

    I had the exact same problems with this pattern – the shoulders are extremely wide. And the collar. And the back skirt. Instead of trying to fix it I moved on, to the Vintage Shirt Dress by sew over it, which except for lacking pockets and being a bit shorter than I like is the perfect shirt dress pattern.

    • kk

      I’m glad that I’m not the only one. I like the Vintage Shirt Dress, too and the new Kate dress is also very nice. I think I should re-use my patterns more often but I’m so tempted by new patterns! I have been thinking of going through my pattern stash and choosing the patterns that could work as slopers for me. That way I could make fitting easier.

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