The Coal-Miner’s Daughter Dress

This dress has a lot of tears.  I don’t mean tears as in torn or ripped, or tears from ripping out seams in frustration – I mean tears of sadness, real wet ones!

I cut this dress in the days after the Pike River tragedy which recently shook our little nation, and listening to talkback radio at the time was quite emotional, being full of tributes to the 29 men who died in the underground coal mine.  Especially emotional when one woman rang in with her story of her father who died in a coal mine many years ago when she was only eight, and she mentioned how proud she was to be a coal miner’s daughter.  Then they played the song of that name…..and well, soppy me, guess the rest!

So this is my coal-miner’s daughter dress, in appropriately coloured coal black poplin, with a few inherent tears from the day it was cut.

But I’m determined this dress is not going to be a sad number – for me this pattern is quite fun and frivolous, being my first tip-toe into fifties-full-skirtedness (but you can see I am not quite brave enough for the underskirt yet, lol!). 
Although I will remember the Pike River 29 every time I put it on, my real hope is that some of the fun I see in this dress will transfer to the families as they recover from the tragedy, and help them to rediscover fun and happiness in their lives again.

The pattern is Simplicity 3039, dated 1959, and is a shirtdress style with a full skirt.  This is the first time I have made such a full skirt for myself, so it is a bit of an experiment in safe-but-boring-black.  I always thought having a big-ish high hip that the extra bulk was not a good idea, however this pattern has tucks on the skirt rather than gathers, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I especially liked how the tucks were arranged in little clusters of four – so cute to look at, but let me tell you they are a nightmare to get accurate! 

After an age of arranging the tucks, I finally went to attach the skirt to the bodice, but it did not fit!  The instructions call for the skirt to be eased onto the bodice a lot, which I obediently did.  But I am not happy with it – it just adds bulk and detracts from the effect of the tucks.  I might go back and redo it, but haven’t as yet, and will I ever?  Dunno – I can be a real perfectionist, but real slapdash when it comes to sewing for myself!!

Covering it up with a ribbon suits my mentality right now, and I might order some red grosgrain especially for this purpose..

I did a few alterations to the bodice – shortened it, narrowed the back, upsized the waist. I keep forgetting to document this process, and promise to try and remember next time.  Now I have photographed the finished dress I can see a ‘lovely’ drag line from shoulder to bust, and maybe I should have added to the front shoulder as I am quite prominent here.  Oh well, if I keep moving no-one will notice…

The fabric is a cotton/elastane poplin, so to stabilise the waistline and prevent it stretching I inserted some pretty striped grosgrain.  Here is a link to Tasia’s tutorial that tells you everything you need to know!  On my dress the waistline had stretched and hung down at the front and back due to the weight of the skirt, and once I cut and inserted the grosgrain to the pattern measurement, it returned to its correct place.

For the record, the hem took me three hours to handsew!  On the poplin I had to be so careful picking up the stitches for it not to show.  But I did it one sunny afternoon out on the patio alongside my Mum doing her embroidery, so it was quite fun and leisurely, and I felt my glass of chardonnay afterwards was extremely well deserved!

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Designer, Patternmaker, Blogger Of All Things Sewing. Follow as I share projects, patterns, and my favourite tricks of the trade.

34 thoughts on “The Coal-Miner’s Daughter Dress

  1. It was awful to hear that tragedy unfolding as it did and to think of the families waiting and waiting.
    The dress is lovely. I've just started to venture into trying some vintage sewing patterns.


  2. Sew lovely. I love the design touch of the waist stay. Even though it was for a practical purpose, your choice of ribbon adds a couture touch to your dress. Well Done!



  3. Your dress will always remind you of the mine tragedy, but it is a lovely dress and really looks good on you. I am impressed that you hand sewed the hem on a skirt that large.


  4. Beautiful dress! You'll get years of wear out of that classic little number.

    It's lovely that you could create in the middle of tragedy. I do that, too. On 9/11, 12 and 13, I sat on my couch, and after being exhausted from all the crying, set to make a purse out of chicken wire. I hand-beaded for THREE days, and it was the best release for all that sadness.


  5. Very, very nice. I think the fit looks great, but I do see a shadow of the wrinkle you were talking about. Could it be you need some fba? With easing the skirt- I nearly always do on my full-skirted dresses, I think it is because the easing helps the skirt spring out from the waist, it makes a difference when you wear a crinoline.

    Isn't it fun to try something radically different? It really suits you, and I like projects made of emotion.


  6. that dress is gorgeous! I have been wanting to make a shirt dress for ages and I definately will be making one now after seeing yours. Great work!


  7. I followed the mining tragedy closely and after the Chilean disaster felt hopeful for them. When second explosion occured and hope abandoned, I wept for about an hour. It is a very nice dress – perhaps you should buy a yellow ribbon for it. Isn't that the symbol of hope?


  8. Yes, Pike River was very much in our minds here too – my husband works in a mine and he does Mines Rescue Training – he was on standby to go over, but then that fatal 2nd explosion meant the rescue was off – incredibly heart breaking stuff! On a brighter note – you've made a lovely dress as a fitting tribute – I like the grosgrain waist stay.


  9. Sherry, I love the job you did on this dress! It's beautiful. I am surprised about the pleats. I guess I always assumed these kinds of dresses had gathers. I too, have hips but lower hip problems and have stayed away from making this kind of dress, but it looks so lovely on you maybe I'll give it a try. LOVE YOUR BLOG!


  10. Lovely! This is exactly what I want to capture in the vintage sewalong! The details are wonderful and your sewing is perfect! Can you use another exclamation mark in this comment??!!


  11. Beautiful dress! I think this dress definitely deserves a full petticoat underneath, and will flatter your figure even more. I don't think you will regret adding this.
    The mining tragedy was just awful news, and you can be sure we were thinking about it a lot over here in Western Australia too. I have some education in mining, and it's probably at least a small reassurance to know the coal miners probably didn't suffer after the first explosion.
    A terrible tragedy.


  12. Hi. This dress looks so lovely. You did such a wonderful job. Thank goodness – I can´t believe I´ve stumbled on an NZ sewing blog! I´m sure there are more out there, but I can´t seem to find them on google etc. I wish there was a website somewhere for NZ sewists. I have some retro/vintage projects in the pipeline, and lots of patterns in the cupboard, but it takes so long from concept to completion with 2 wee kids in tow! ;o)

    I don´t know what to write about Pike River. Its such a tragedy. We followed every step of it, as I´m sure everyone here in NZ did.


  13. I love this dress! We never see you in full skirts! I was just talking about full-skirtedness in another comment and here you are, pleats and gathers and all! Go for the underskirt, just for fun. In a colour, no less!
    Anyways – I love this one! It's gorgeous, simple, flattering, and mixes modern and vintage so well. I've seen that before on patterns where they have you pleat the skirt, and then gather it as well over top of the pleats.. the effect is very nice on yours! Love the stripy ribbon too, thanks for the link to my tutorial.
    So sorry to hear about the tragedy, and I'm glad you were able to channel your energy creatively in spite of it.


  14. Uuh! Dress-envy. I would never have thought of making this pattern based on the pastel-coloured versions from the pattern illustration, but your elegant version would fit right into my wardrobe.


  15. Hi Sherry – I've just found your blog and I LOVE it! What a fantastic resource!! Thanks for taking the time to do such a great job – your photos are beautiful and clear, your muslin (toile) shots are a great help in understanding fit – which is what I'm trying to get the hang of at the moment.

    Love your coal-miner's daughter's dress too.

    I'm also from Auckland, but now I live in Vancouver, Canada. Oh how I miss Global Fabrics. And tropical gardens.

    Cheers, Jess


  16. Hi Sherry! I discovered your blog this week and it has become my reward! Finishing a task or taking a break involves reading another post or two 🙂

    I love this dress so much that i immediately scoured the web for the same vintage pattern. Thank you so much for this incredible resource of sewing information and the inspiration!



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