Apparel · Dresses & Skirts · Sewing

Vintage Mccalls 3131: The Brown Dress Gets Her Cinderella Moment

As you may already know, the 60s and 70s are my favorite fashion eras. Mini dresses from the 60s, and long, flowing, boho dresses from the 70s are my absolute favorite articles of clothing from those times. If I could get my hands on every single vintage dress in those styles, you bet I’d be the first in line!

If you are familiar in the area of vintage sewing patterns, then you already know how rare it is to find certain dress patterns, especially when it comes to the late 60s-early 70s hippie/boho era. just hearing the name “Gunne Sax” is enough to put vintage fashion enthusiasts (No shame! Me!) in a crazed frenzy. Amazingly, I have been rather lucky in finding a few Gunne Sax sewing patterns very near to my size. So while I’ll still need to do some pattern grading for proper fit (sigh), it’s not by much. That will be another post, however…

The Pattern

In the meantime, I did manage to find darling dress pattern that still fulfills my 70s Dream Dress needs. The Mccalls 3131 is a vintage pattern from 1972. It’s a high waisted dress with puffed or ruffled sleeves, bottom skirt ruffle, and ribbon embellishments along the bodice and skirt ruffle. The best part about it is that this one is in my size! Score!

The style (naturally) is what drew me to the pattern, but really, any free flowing dress is ideal to me. I’ve made many “cinched-waist” 50s style dresses during my sewing journey and while they are super fun and I love them all, I will always prefer the easygoing, breezy, loose fitting (as in, no need for spanx! Haha!) silhouette any day of the week!

Fabric & Notions

So, I had two different floral prints in mind for this dress. Both are from the Kaufman Sevenberry Petite Garden collection. I decided on this navy blue ditsy floral.

Then, I saw the same print, but with a brown background and orange and yellow flowers and thought it was perfect and summery, so I got some yardage of that print as well. I want to say that both are cotton lawn, but the blue feels much softer than the brown, so I’m suspecting just that one is lawn, and the brown is regular cotton. However, I find that Kaufman quilting cottons are still nice and lightweight, and comparable to apparel cotton, so it’s fine.

Notions include an 18″ zipper and novelty ribbon trim for embellishment.

Sewing Details

The M3131 was a quick and easy sew for me. The pattern itself is wonderfully laid out and the directions are clear and very organized. The only thing that was new to me was the fact that the pattern called for a “waist stay” to be sewn in the bodice. I had to look it up and figure out what it does for the dress, and to be honest, I didn’t really think it was that essential nor necessary, and promptly left it out of construction. Other than that detail, sewing everything else was a breeze.

I was blessed to have this pattern in my size and I am pretty familiar with Mccalls patterns already, but nonetheless I wanted to practice on a muslin first. However, I did not have any more practice fabric on hand, and since I favored the blue floral more so than the brown, I decided to use the brown one as a muslin. Good thing I did, because upon sewing, I found several details that I would need to change once I started in on the blue print:

  • Bodice & Waist: The bodice and waist ended up being a little large. Now, I’m not sure if this is due to the pattern itself being generously sized, or if it is because I may have lost a few inches from exercising (If that’s the case, then no complaints there! Woo-hoo!). I ended up having to take in the sides of the bodice, waist, and skirt about 1/4″ to make it fit better.
  • Sleeves: The puff sleeves are cuffed with elastic at the end. I like the long sleeves, but I think when I start my blue print, I will change them out for a short bell sleeve. This is just a personal preference.
  • Skirt: The thing I noticed about the skirt is that it is very full. It’s not too bad, but for the next dress, I plan on taking a few inches off the skirt panels. Also, I was surprised to see that I needed minimal hemming for the bottom to account for my short height. I only needed to take off around 2 inches from the bottom skirt before attaching the ruffle.

Fast forward!

I have my muslin all sewn up and altered, so now I can start on the official Blue Dress!


Ok, so it’s been about a week since I wrote that last sentence up there. Well, from the time that I wrote this post to the time I fully finished it (today), my brown “muslin” got all dolled up and now she is a wearable DRESS! I just couldn’t justify taking all that time to create it and then decide not to make it truly wearable.

The truth was, after I saw it made, I was honestly so underwhelmed with the print in the beginning because for one thing, the scale of the ditsy floral is teeny! I mean, I’m talking almost microscopic–yeah, that small. Up close, it’s quite pretty, but from far away, eh, it just looked so drab on me! At best, this dress was more or less an “ok house dress” and not an outdoor kind. And honestly, that thought made me feel like such a horrible person! The fact that I could think of it that way, as if it is so homely looking that it doesn’t deserve to be seen outside seemed so pretentious to me. Plus, I was having major guilt over wasting all my time, effort, and fabric to make that dress, only to hide it indoors. I immediately got over my snobbery and promised that I will take my drab, muddy brown dress and turn her into a thing of beauty!

And thing of beauty she is!!

Ta-da! I decided to use the crochet trim I intended for the Blue Dress on my muslin-turned-dress instead. And voila! No longer Plain Jane Brown, eh? I gave her a Cinderella makeover, and I think I did pretty well! Placing the trim like so manages to break the print up so that this dress isn’t all one big blob of brown. Now the trim takes the stage, and the brown gets thrown into the background, but since it has that mini floral print, it’s not so boring and stands on it’s own as an interesting detail up close. I did end up taking off the ruffle and shortening the skirt a little bit more to a midi length. I just liked it better that way.

Please excuse my tired eyes. I didn’t get the best sleep the night before, and it clearly shows..Eek!

The vertical stripes down the skirt were actually an afterthought. I thought they gave a little bit more of a visual (and slimming) interest to the dress than if they weren’t there. I had meant to place the bottom parts of the trim underneath the horizontal stripe in the ruffle, but at that point it was so late at night, and I honestly got lazy and just ended up layering them on top and calling it a day. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

I love my 70s style wood platform wedges by B.O.C. I got them a while back and I think the are from Nordstrom Rack

It was fun placing the ribbon trim. This crochet pattern is from Etsy. I sewed it on using a simple straight stitch, and it wasn’t difficult to do. If you can see without the magnifying glass (kidding!), the color of the trim picks up on the lighter flowers in the print

I’m so glad I was able to salvage this dress. I’ll make sure she gets good use outdoors, hehe. As for the Blue Dress, I actually have other plans for it–the fabric, I mean. That will be another post for another day, though. My Beautiful Brown Dress deserves the spotlight today!


2 thoughts on “Vintage Mccalls 3131: The Brown Dress Gets Her Cinderella Moment

  1. Hi! Hope you are doing well!

    That is a gorgeous dress, and you look so pretty in it! I’m from that 50’s-70’s era myself, and can remember Mom wearing some long dresses like that! So I guess I should be wearing them, too!

    But looking at the pattern package early in your post, that knee-length version caught my eye. It could be the perfect style to wear nowadays! Shows some leg, and is cute, too! Hmmm. Just wish I was as thin as the models!

    Be safe…



    1. Thanks so much! The “Gunne Sax” era was such a phenomenon for womens fashion back then and any vintage piece is so coveted right now! The sewing patterns are very hard to come by, so when they do, you can’t think twice about getting them because it’s literally “blink and miss” if you don’t decide right away to snag them.

      The knee length version would look great! No talk about “thin!” You make it work for you. All about attitude! 😉❤️


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