Making 1950’s Playsuits with McCalls 3616!

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a wooden bench and concrete wall. They are wearing a cactus print playsuit over a white, collared blouse with short sleeves. They have one hand on their hip.

Hello friends! It’s true that I am excited about each pattern of the month and can’t wait to share what I’ve learned while making them, but this particular pattern holds special meaning for me. I have a love of all things overall, romper, jumpsuit and playsuit – which I think comes as no surprise, and it’s been on my sewing bucket list for quite a long time now that I wanted to make some vintage playsuits which would be tailored to me. No cramped crotch, no awkward tightness about the thighs, and I would make them in fabric which doesn’t bother the skin! But patterns of even roughly my size range were either thin on the ground, or would cost so much it honestly wasn’t within my budget to buy them. This was where the miraculous find of McCall’s 3616, a circa 1956 bathing suit pattern, in PDF format by The Vintage Sewing Pattern Company came to my rescue! I purchased it on their Etsy website, after first checking there was some kind of scale marker to help me keep printing accurate.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a wooden bench and concrete wall. They are wearing a cactus print playsuit over a white, collared blouse with short sleeves. They have their back to the camera and arms folded.

I must confess that I haven’t had the happiest time with PDF sewing patterns. Those that worked out, were simple to put together or didn’t cost an arm and a leg to print, were the exception rather than the rule. I believe this is part of the reason the Anything but Basic Tee wowed me so much, because it made the entire PDF experience an absolute breeze! I was also quite pleased with this McCall’s 3616 PDF too. I had messaged the sellers on Etsy to confirm it had a scale marker, something PDF sellers often seem to neglect to the detriment of home printers! They were quick to respond and confirm that there was indeed a ruler on the pagers which I could measure. I decided to take the plunge, and once I had printed the pattern I was delighted to see it was as if someone had indeed scanned the original and given me precious access to it. The markings were all made clear, but I had no doubts that I was getting much what I would have gotten if I’d had the paper version.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a wooden bench and concrete wall. They are wearing a cactus print playsuit over a white, collared blouse with short sleeves. They are on a slight angle with their hands in their pockets.

The first thing that stood out to me while I was working on the initial muslins was the gaping in both the high bust and the waist. Gaping in the high bust is nothing new to me because of how my breasts are shaped, being much flatter on the top and much wider on the bottom. I had also noted another commentor on Etsy mentioning this issue too. However, the waist being loose surprised me because it didn’t seem to be due to the curve of my back or where it was placed on the pattern. All of that aligned rather well with me. But having developed a method for removing the excess width from the high bust of patterns without altering their overall shape, I was well equipped to get stuck in to altering this! The one change I made from the method of my tutorial below was to take the point of the slash to slightly below the waist, so that when I overlapped the side back and side front pieces I was also taking the excess from the waist.

Once I had gotten the fit right I then considered some of the other instructions of the pattern, beginning with the lining. As with a lot of linings it’s constructed to be a mirror of the outer fabric, and then placed right sides together and secured at certain points before turning right sides out. In this pattern it was to be secured along the opening of the center back where the zipper would go, and once turned right side out then basted again along the leg-holes and top. I wasn’t a huge fan of this, or of the notion that I would then be sewing the zipper down on top of both the lining and the outer fabric. I knew from looking ahead that a lot of hand-stitching would be required regardless, so I thought – how about inserting an invisible zipper now into the outer fabric and then hand-stitching the lining to the edges of the zipper!

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a wooden bench and concrete wall. They are wearing a blue playsuit with a print of women in bikinis in various poses. They have one hand on their hip.

I feel I am getting much better with inserting invisible zippers. Although I still struggle with the seam below the zipper wanting to tuck a little instead of sitting flat, I have learned to sew along their sides on a bit of an angle as it allows me to get much, much closer to their teeth and thus keep them more invisible! I happened to have matching zippers in my stash for both the cactus-print fabric, which was a cotton poplin I got in the clearance section at Spotlight for Christmas, and this last of this girls-girls-girls sort of print I had found at the op shop in a large length. I knew from the outset I wanted red accents for the girls fabric, and green for the cactus, and I was pleased to have both in the right length! Then it was a matter of inserting them, and getting that lining basted in and hand-stitched down.

This image shows both playsuits on a white sheet, turned inside out to show their lining. One has blue and white polkadot lining and one has white floral lining.

The lining also deserves special recognition here I feel, although it was difficult as could be to take a decent photo of! Both pieces of fabric I used to line each playsuit were small length of vintage cottons that were gifted to me by a very kind volunteer at a local op-shop. I chose them from my stash because they would both use identical thread colours to the outer fabric, and keep it all nice and neat looking. It also means I thrill each time I look inside the garments to see that lovely vintage cotton! Between this secret delight and the outer fabric were also meant to be quite short lengths of feather boning for the bust, but I omitted that altogether as I’m not a particular fan of boning in regular clothing, and I didn’t intend to purchase some simply for one pattern of the month. I also omitted the hook and eyes which would be sensible to have above the zipper as I find them uncomfortable to have around the shoulder area.

Nell, a Caucasian person, sits on a wooden bench in front of a concrete wall. They are wearing a blue playsuit with a print of women in bikinis in various poses. They are holding the edge of the bench.

To add further delight to the pattern, the trims around the bust and leg holes which was meant to be cut from the main fabric, was instead replaced with lengths of vintage hemming tape! I didn’t have enough of either fabric – including the linings, to consider cutting the trim out of those. Besides, I was quite eager to have a pop of colour there which would add nice contrast to each playsuit. I was fortunate enough to find a local seller on Etsy with lengths of hemming tape long enough to suit the girls-print fabric playsuit, and the required length was no laughing matter! I used over two and a half meters of hemming tape per playsuit! Not only because of the length needed to cover each area, but also because I had decided that what these playsuits needed to achieve ultimate perfection was pockets, and why wouldn’t I add trim to the pockets too! These I put together by roughly drafting a shape like that of my Simplicity 8447 Overalls, and adding a seam allowance. I then stitched the red hemming tape, and a small amount of green bias binding, to the tops before attaching them to the playsuits.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a wooden bench and concrete wall. They are wearing a blue playsuit with a print of women in bikinis in various poses, under a blue denim skirt. They are holding the skirt out slightly to one side.

The final change I made to the pattern was in handling the straps. In the original instructions I was somehow meant to add buttons to these rather thin things, and to have buttonholes for them to go through on the playsuit. I didn’t find this idea all that thrilling, least of all when so much hand-stitching was required to get the hemming tape closed around all the raw edges. So instead I opted to finish the straps and hand-stitch them on too. I removed a bit of length from them, as is often required for me, and then back-stitched them in place on the inside of the playsuits. This allowed for them to be well-secured but also to avoid the stitches being visible on the outside of the garments. And now when I look inside of them I see weeks of love and attention, and I can’t help but smile!

Final Thoughts

Pattern Made: McCall’s 3616, a PDF version

Views Made: Views A and B, Bathing Suit

Sizes Made: Bust 36″

Alterations Made: I removed 6 inches from the high bust area, as well as reducing the size of the waist. I added pockets to the front of both, and didn’t use feather boning in the bust. I also hand-stitched both straps down instead of adding buttons.

Ease of Construction: While there is a bit of fiddling involved around easing the curves of the bust, I didn’t find this pattern too difficult to assemble. It’s comprised of several long seams, which means it’s good for batch sewing at each step.

Recommended Level: Because this involves fitting in multiple areas of the body, I wouldn’t recommend it for any level below and intermediate sewist. It might be a bit tricky for those who don’t have deep hips or shorter torsos, who might need to alter the fit of the crotch or the bodice sections.

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