1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fabric ordered. Now to notions…

I’m still tweaking a few details on Toile Version 3.1 of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. Here are the latest developments…

Fabric Ordered and Belt Buckles Under Consideration

The flares for Version 3 were just right. I ordered a rayon challis print that looks very good when flared. Since I ordered a 1/4 yard cut for the sample I had enough to play with on the dress form. When the print is flared the tiny flowers look ok. At first I had thought such a print would not match up at seams. But no worries with this pattern. It’s too small to require matching up.

The fabric is very soft and feels nice against my skin. I’ve decided to make the belt buckle the focal point of the dress. I have two belt buckles I bought at a trimmings shop in my neighborhood. I’ve photographed each against the fabric for the dress.

I like the look of the gold buckle. If I use it the dress can be accessorized with a gold chain necklace and earrings.

I’m leaning towards the green buckle because it is very attractive against the print. I also think it has a retro look to it.

Bias Binding Slip Stitched to Sleeve

I followed Norma’s advice and slip stitched the bias binding to the sleeve. This required slip stitching from the outside and then the inside. It worked out beautifully. Thank you, Norma for sharing this new found technique. Here I have found the solution to working with bias binding. It does not pucker when applied this way. It also does not stiffen up as it does when machine stitched.

Since it’s very hot I still haven’t put the sleeve in to test the fit and the hang of it. This next step will take place after I deal with the V-neckline of the dress.

Stay Tape

On Version 3 of the toile I used a strip of muslin selvage stabilize the V-neckline. This worked out with mixed results. I found the neckline a little too heavy in feeling. It lacked the soft quality that I now see on the finished sleeve. I’ve read that the selvage of organza is the best to use as a stay tape. I’m still not sure it is the solution I need.

I ordered a roll of Dritz nylon stay tape to try on Version 3.1 of the toile. I will then test it on a scrap of the dress fabric to make sure the two work well together.

Eliminating the Ties
I have decided to eliminate the ties for several reasons. Among them are:

**The placement looks awkward on the dress form even though it has a small bustline (32″ inches).

**A set of ties right below the v-neckline takes away from the bias binding finish of the neckline.  The second set of ties would be located at bust level or below. It would look odd on a woman with a well defined figure.

**The ties at the sleeve would distract from someone seeing the belt buckle as the focal point of the dress.

**I considered sketches from “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930 book from which I took inspiration for my dress. Whether the dress with the ties is worn by a tall or short woman they will only look good if she is very slender and angular. I’m making this conclusion based on how I envision the dress with ties would look on the women around me. Most are curvy and it would not look that good.

**Instead of ties I’m considering buttons in a shade of green that matches the belt. There will be one at the neckline in the back and three buttons on the seam of the sleeve. These would close with a thread loop made in green silk thread.

**To accessorize the dress I’ll look for dangling earrings with crystal beads or stud earrings. A necklace 16-18″ long with crystal beads is also a possible accessory. I’d love to find beads or crystals in colors similar to the floral print of the dress fabric.

How the dress with ties would look on a tall vs. a short woman

These sketches are from “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Pattern Company in 1930. I have searched online but cannot find a photo of this dress to better judge how the ties would look.

Dress with ties on a tall, slender woman as imagined by the illustrator.

Here is how it is supposed to look on an average or petite size woman.

What’s up next

I will be looking for a very lightweight zipper. I plan to do a slot application using Claire Shaeffer’s couture method. I want to see if there is a zipper with a light tape. The kinds of zippers I usually use are, I think, a little too heavy for the dress fabric.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Quick update

Greetings.  How is everyone?  It’s been hot and humid here in Brooklyn.  Not the best weather to sew.  I put the sleeve with vertical elbow dart in.  The results were exactly the same as they were when I drafted the sleeve using Margaret Ralston’s method.  The sleeve, drafted using the French Fashion Academy drafting system, had exactly the same results:  The sleeve swings too far to the front of the dress.

Ralston recommends putting the underarm seam 3/4″ to the front.  As I look at the sleeve again it seems to me that I should try putting the seam 3/4″ to the back of the bodice side seam.  That may get the balance needed for the sleeve to hang just right.

The rest of the dress pattern and toile are completed except for one detail.  I am going to make a needed departure from 1930s techniques.  Now that I have a sleeve in the dress it is not easy to put on.  Even with a slot seam at center back, dressing would be difficult once both sleeves are in the dress.  I could make the neckline wider but then there is my concerns that the V-neckline will look sloppy.  I also do not like to lower a neckline too far below the collar bone in the back.  This has the effect of making the neckline look longer which is flattering if you have a long graceful neckline.  It is also important to be nicely filled out on the shoulders.  If you’re skinny or have prominent collar bones this is not an attractive neckline treatment.  I always think showing less is better in this area for many women.

I have never really liked the side zippers and snap plackets on vintage clothing.  The side seams on fitted clothing goes bias and often this seam sticks out when a zipper is inserted there unless the dress includes a belt.  For my dress, it would be silly to put a zipper into such a loose dress at the side seam.  Also the side seam from underarm to below the bust does taper slightly.

I’m going to have to put a center back seam and use a 22-24″ modern nylon zipper.  I never appreciated a center back zipper until I had to wiggle in and out of the toile last night.  I’m no longer able to wear a size 4 personally but I do use this for practice and creating a portfolio.  At some point I’ll start my own custom made clothing again but my focus is on learning right now.  Having a different size and figure type to work with helps me learn about styles I wouldn’t use for my own figure.

The toile looks very good with a belt but once the dress is on the fullness moves around a lot.  This could result in the dress looking uneven in areas as the fabric moves around.  I am thinking of putting elastic in a casing to very slightly control the fullness at the waist.  In this way when the belt is used there will already be some control so the dress looks neat no matter how much you sit or move.

So please stay tuned.  We’re almost there.  I can really feel the evolution of this dress and hope you do, too.  I realize how many wonderful products and techniques that have developed throughout the decades since the style that inspired this dress was made.  We no longer let the clothing wear us.  Clothing has to move with us and agree with us.  For that I’m just as grateful as the fact that as I was coming of age women began to accept their bodies for the way they were.  The idea of being constrained by girdles and long line bras was on the way out.  Having enjoyed this freedom of movement and ease of getting into and out of clothes so easily I never gave it a thought until I struggled with getting in and out of the toile last night.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Toile 3 is the one!

Here’s a quick update on my progress with Version 3 of the toile of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma   This version was created from a pattern drafted using the French Fashion method.  The lessons I learned from my mistakes in draping were applied in how and where I used darts, type of dart, depth of flares for the skirt and depth of darts for the neckline.

This is it!  The dress is officially now in progress.  After three months of intensive attempts at draping I have come very far in developing my eye and assessment of what is needed for this dress.  Despite all the failures with the drape and resulting toiles, I come away with the following:

*Understanding how much style ease is needed for a pull-over dress.
*The depth of the neckline needed for a pull-over dress.
*Use of a slot seam at center back to make putting the dress on easier.
*Using an old fashioned type of fitted sleeve with a vertical dart from wrist to elbow to create an attractive looking sleeve that has that certain something that distinguishes clothing from the past.
*A good depth for flares on a skirt.
*A good technique for applying bias binding to a V-neckline.

I will go into more detail once I finish the sleeve and it is sewn into the armhole.  There is an excellent tutorial for working bias binding around a v-neckline that I recommend. Please visit  How to bind an inverted corner (or v-neck) with bias binding at BurdaStyle.com  It has provided me with the results I want.  One thing I do realize is that using a pick-stitch or back stitch for sewing in the binding is not a good choice of stitch.  It can cause some puckering.  I’m going to try slipstitching the binding from the outside and inside as an alternative.  I think handsewing like this might be better than machine topstitching.

I used Margaret Ralston’s technique for drafting the flared portion of the dress.  The lessons learned from my draping failures made drafting this pattern very easy.  Creating neckline darts was the only tricky part.  Here are photos of the successful Toile Version 3.












The Dressmaker’s Library: The One Hour Dress series






The One Hour Dress by Mary Brooks Picken

In centuries past women not only wore corsets and fitted clothing.  They carried yards of fabric trailing after them or bustled up behind them.  The clothing actually wore a woman by  defining how she moved and shaping her body in ways nature never intended.  With the dawning of the 1910s, women in many Western countries began to move into clothing they could wear and move in with ease.  The development of the One Hour Dress by Mary Brooks Picken must have seemed astounding in one way.  In another way women may have looked at its simple shape and wondered why nobody had made such clothing for them before.

For this book review I’m using three of the many books Mary wrote about the One Hour Dress.  The books are all published by Bramcourt Publications.  The titles are:

The One Hour Dress 21 New Designs with Complete Instructions for Making

The One Hour Dress with 17 New Designs for 1924

The One Hour Dress with 17 New Designs with Detailed Instructions for Making

The pattern drafting instructions are very simple.  The measurements needed are the length from about the collarbone at the front going straight down to the waist or hip.  The measurement for the armhole is taken by measuring from front to back around the arm.  The only measurement for width is the hipline.  Using these measurements and following a detailed sequence of steps, the pattern is drawn onto the fabric and then cut.

As I studied the instructions I noted that there is no exact measurement for style ease or lowering the armhole for a comfortable fit.  These are adjustments that I think it is wise to make on a muslin.  Another factor for creating a muslin is to check if the finished width of the dress will be flattering on your figure.  It is important to remember that the hipline defines the width of the entire dress.  If one is pear shaped or larger in the middle, the fitting might not be the best without some adjustments.  For women with curvy figures the resulting tubular shape will also require some experimentation.  Once the fit and amount of width is agreeable you are free to use this basic block shape in many ways.

The creativity comes from the way in which skirts are created using gathers, fluttering insets or wide sashes.  Contrasting bands of color are sometimes added.  There are also many clever use of pleatings at the side seams to create walking room.  A very unusual feature is a horizontal dart made at the hip level.  This is supposed to achieve a degree of shaping.  I’ve tried it but find the hemline on a one piece dress goes off-grain.  I think this is because the intake of the horizontal dart requires lifting fabric up from the side seam and tapering to nothing near the hipbone.

The dresses all feature a form of a kimono sleeve which you can vary in length and depth once you get used to working with this technique.  There are also instructions in some books for creating long sleeves.  These are more rectangles sewn into the kimono type sleeve of the dress.  Overall I look at this dress as a series of rectangles that gain character and style based on the embellishments you add, the type of color or print, and the way you vary other elements such as pockets, bands and pleats.

The dresses slip over the head and are closed along one shoulder line using snaps.  Necklines are often finished with bias tape.  Hems for sleeves and skirts can be machine or hand stitched.

I have seen some good results of dresses other bloggers have created using Mary’s system.  The results are very creative.  Check out the pretty results at the Take a Length Blog posting The One Hour Dress.

Even if you don’t use Mary’s system it will help you when you draft a basic chemise dress for a 1920s inspired fashion.  You’ll get a good idea about where pockets, pleats, insets and sashes can be placed while at the same time using the more precise and proportional results a drafted pattern using modern techniques will achieve.















1930s Sew-along with Norma: Sources for fabric ideas

The fabric swatches previously ordered for the 1930s Sew-along  are all pretty in their own way.  But I’ve yet to find just the right one.  The challis swatches are the right weight but their prints are too busy.  This would cause the details of the dress to get lost.  The pink crepe I had selected would be perfect for a lightweight suit but not a dress.

I plan to study vintage pattern envelope scans for styles similar to the one I’m working on.  The fabric selections given there will be of great help.  Advertisements from vintage magazines and newspapers also offer resources since many ads describe the fabrics used to create the fashions.  It’s true that some of these fabrics are no longer available but I think research on the internet can help one find equivalents.  Fabrics like rayon, silk, linen are still used today.  I think even a blend of synthetic and these fibers would work well.

I’m finding the main challenge to be whether or not to go with a print.  This is where advertisements from period publications are a big help.  Sometimes pattern envelope illustrations only show solid colors for a garment because the purpose of the illustration is to show the garment details.

Here is the advertisement from the  May 2, 1938 Chicago Tribune that got me to thinking along these lines.  How do you shop for fabric when making a vintage or vintage inspired style?  Please share your stories and any guidelines.

Sheer Femininity-Advertisement for Fashions at Carson Pirie Scott & Co.
May 2, 1938




Note:  I find the names of two colors rather odd.  Perhaps “copen” means Copenhagen blue?  Could “luggage” be a shade of brown?


Chicago Tribune
May 2, 1938
Page 9


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Lessons Learned and Next Phase

I’ve found the reasons why Version 2 of my 1930s toile still had rippling at the neckline and a very tired look. I was using a very lightweight draping muslin that did not work well with my touch and how I was using it at the neckline. I practiced binding the neckline again but using a medium weight muslin. This time I had success with the neckline.

I’m not satisfied, though, with the overall results I’ve produced for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. I’m very fussy about the way a garment fits. My progress at draping is not at a level where I can successfully create a pattern for an entire garment. Yet I do feel that reconnection to this skill coming back. It’s going to take time, a lot of time, for me to get it all together. Draping is a little like learning how to play a musical instrument. The more you practice on a consistent, scheduled basis the greater the progress. Since I have many personal and job related activities right now this practice time is not continuous. Days lapse without me continuing the movements of the day before and it takes awhile to get back into the groove.

I have learned several things about vintage sewing and draping from this exercise. I’ve also realized several things about all the books on vintage sewing, draping and patternmaking. I want to share these with you:

• Sewing vintage is a specialty. So call yourself a specialist in vintage sewing and patternmaking techniques.
• You need sufficient knowledge of alterations to render the garment wearable with today’s undergarments and your own body shape.
• Journeying into the work involved with vintage patterns is like learning a foreign language. There many perforations and shapes you need to know the meaning of since most patterns did not have grain lines or sewing details printed on them.
• Some of the books available for draping like “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link or “”Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” by Sandra Ericson are not for the beginner. I say this because they lack the level of highly detailed books we have available today. Our modern books offer much more detail and better illustrations to take you step-by-step through the process. Which is why our modern draping books can cost more than $75 to $100 each.
• Vintage patternmaking books like Margaret Ralston’s “Dress Cutting” offer what appears like a quick way to make your own patterns using a block method. I’ve googled and seen some results of other bloggers who use her basic bodice and the results are very good. I do think that one would have to experiment with the amount of style ease needed for each dress in the book since Ralston does not even offer a guideline.

I’m going to complete this project using the patternmaking system I learned in design school. Otherwise this dress will never come into expression. What I have learned through all the versions of the dress will prove very valuable:

• I have learned where the most flattering levels for a flounce are on a skirt—Never put one into a seam at abodomen level or let the seam cross the end of your backside—This will not be flattering.
• When working with a tubular silhouette of the 1920s or very early 1930 it is best to place the dart at bust level or above, such as in the armhole or at the shoulder line.
• French darts to not look very good with an unfitted tubular dress or bodice. The long French dart that starts almost or slightly above the waistline looks better with an A-line type of flare at the side seam.
• 1930s long sleeves were quite fitted at the wrist with ease starting at the elbow. Consideration has to be given as to the level of comfort and movement we are used to today: do we give that up to keep the look authentic or do we alter the pattern?

So while my method for creating the dress will be a patternmaking system that developed after the 1930s I think the back story of the dress details will be from the 1930s. All the draping and experimenting done through the past versions of the dress have made it possible for me to know exactly how much style ease is needed as well as which sewing techniques from 1930s will work.

This will also provide a good lesson in the differences in fit the different methods and mediums produce. I have a rare four days at home this weekend so I plan to make the most of it and complete a drafted paper pattern before next Monday.

More to come…

“Edith Head & Co.” exhibit at The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio

I have always associated Edith Head with the glamorous fashions of 1940s Hollywood. Her career, however, began much earlier than this.  In the late 1920s she began work at Paramount Studios.  Edith worked at the studio during the time two other top Hollywood designers were there: Howard Greer and then Travis Banton.  After Banton left Paramount in the late 1930s, Edith rose into a position of prominence at the studio.


“Edith Head & Co.” is the current exhibit at The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. It features costumes Edith designed for such stars as Barbara Staynwyck in “The Lady Eve” with its clever use of a sheer fabric under a beaded midriff to give the appearance the actress is not wearing anything underneath.  There are also costumes designed by Greer and Banton that provide a basis for comparison and contrast to Edith’s designs.  Into this are mixed the creations of other famous Hollywood designers like Irene and modern costume designers such as Colleen Atwood.  On display are also accessories and jewelry used in films from the 1920s through today.

You can see a preview of the exhibit at Youtube. Each costume is beautifully presented in a space that creates the sense of entering a temple of enduring glamor and elegance.  I think actually visiting the exhibit will add to the experience since the costumes may be viewed up close and in relationship to the other costumes they are grouped with.


The exhibit runs through August 14th, 2016 at:


Decorative Arts Center of Ohio
145 E. Main St.
Lancaster, Ohio 43130
Phone: 740-681-1423


For further information please visit http://www.decartsohio.org/exhibitions.html