The Dirndl Dress: An exploration in draping and flat patternmaking

Front view of the dirndl dress half toile.

I thought that a fun project to help reawaken my sensibilities for full scale dressmaking would be a dirndl dress. Something very basic and adaptable for which accessories can provide a late 1950s-early 1960s feeling.

Back view of the dirndl dress half-toile

The dress itself is more of an exercise to help me get my touch back and to know when it’s better to use draping vs. flat patternmaking.

Close-up of fitted bodice with scoop neckline and double French darts.

I spent a week applying the Contour Principles from Helen Joseph Armstrong’s book “Patternamking for Fashion Design” for my flat pattern draft of a sleeveless, fitted bbdice with scooped neckline. I do not use her system but thought I could apply some of the contouring principles to my pattern. The results were not very good. I then moved onto another half-toile using the technique I’d learned in school, namely to ease in the fullness of the armhole and neckline to the facing. That didn’t work very well either.

Side view of bodice with double French darts.

I’d always had better results with draping sleeveless and/or low necked bodices so I decided to give it a go. I thought a double French dart would be a nice challenge in terms of draping and sewing, so I draped the bodice.

The only part of the draping process I found tricky was deciding to go with a neckline or shoulder dart. After repining and redraping I finally got the neckline dart right.

The dirndl skirt for the dress was made using a flat pattern drafted from the basic skirt measurements plus 2′ of style ease. This pattern was then cut and slashed open.

In the next postings I will show the draped double French dart pattern in muslin and on paper. Then I will briefly show how the dirndl skirt was made and provide instructions on how to draft the resulting pattern. While it’s true that a dirndl skirt can be made using nothing more than a wide rectangle of fabric, I will provide a few differences that will result in a better fit and just the right amount of gathers for your particular size. The pattern I provide will be for a size 4 but the principles can be applied to all sizes.

Stay tuned…more to come.